Two weeks and two days ago, I embarked on a strange journey for this time of pandemic and distrust. I packed up the car and began a six-month road trip. My first two days involved a trip to look at the little trailer park in Clarksville, Tennessee – the trailer that was new-ish when I lived in it now sits with wood covering three windows but in better shape than its neighbors who sit as shells with broken windows and people still living in them. Following that, I drove through the upper rings of one of three major storms/hurricanes that have impacted the east coast – a path through areas where lives were lost including that of 7-month-old babies.
It is hard to name what motivates this trip – part memory, part research, and if being honest, part middle of life accounting that makes me want to heal trauma an thrive in the coming years. Some might call that a midlife crisis, but I agree with Brene Brown. “People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling – a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.” (Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, p. xii)
I found a way to work hard and make it affordable to my budget (five dog walks per day!). I was not untraveled before – having been in all but three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Delaware) and the countries to the north and south of the United States. I was a little skeptical that it would be a drastic change, but it feels like a different world. I am learning about myself and I am learning about the world I want to help build.
Here are some early observations and points of clarity.
1. Masks are needed and necessary, and it is interesting to see who pushes them and who doesn’t, who uses them and who doesn’t. They also prevent us from seeing one another. We all look down. I went to a grocery store today and could not tell you the first descriptive truth about a single person I encountered other than one woman had beautiful long, grey hair hanging loose on her shoulders.
I am a face person and have always trusted my ability to recognize other people and place them, even if their names take a bit longer to re-enter from memory at times. I can see an actor on television and place them with their 11-year-old self in an obscure movie filmed in 1980’s film stock. Losing that ability means I just keep my head down and get in and back out of every location.
I worry that as we lose that ability to see people, we will lose our ability to love and trust in the same way. I get that the masks may be here to stay, but I can tell you that seeing the drive-through employee wearing a full clear shield allowed me to see her blond-tipped tight curls and the brightness of her smile. If masks are here to stay, I hope we find ways to reclaim our ability to see each other.
2. Being in the world is exhausting. I think we may need to grasp that we have all become more introverted than we were before. Going to the grocery store and dealing with a cleaning crew at one of the houses I sat at left me exhausted enough to need a nap. It is nothing more than awareness of other people. I did one touristy thing (social distanced and masked) and by the time it was done – same thing. I like people, but my situational alertness that is part of being around people has slowed down and takes longer to recharge.
3. Nature means more and I hear more when I spend time with the trees and water. I look for the butterflies and the bumblebees and even appreciate the itch and sting of a chigger or mosquito bite. We seem to be on the verge of a huge change – one way or another. The first path leads toward a world where we tend to the environment, we care for other people, and we live as a single international humanity that is impacted by the actions of others. The other is the one we are on, and it involves environmental catastrophes, pandemics, water shortages, food shortages, economic disparity with the end of even social security benefits for most, and war. We need a new way to be and to live; and I must ask again, having tried the European colonizers way, is it not well past time to try the ways of the other people of the world?
4. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Brene Brown
Our lives are all ships sailing on the same vast ocean. Some ships go from place to place, never faltering, encountering minor storms, and needed repairs or adjustments, but mostly just being a ship. Others spring leaks before they leave port. Some go down in the first major storm. Some never make it out of the dock. And some weather it all – they face storm after storm, engine failures, and mutiny and they just keep going. Watching the ships leads to truth - it gets harder to stay centered in resiliency when your ship keeps sinking.
We are all afraid of drowning and our fear keeps us from remembering that waves can also lift us up until we are revitalized.
When we are in the middle of the ocean, we started grasping, holding on, and trying to stay afloat by recreating the same conditions that caused us to flounder. When we let go, we can see the pathway to new beginnings. We are not called to this place to recreate what has been but to envision what might be/come if we let ourselves dream again.
Becoming a place of safety for LGBTQIA+ people (or for Black or Brown people) is not a program. It is not twelve steps to become. Researcher Brene Brown explains that when we get overly focused on the right steps, we get lost. Real change is not a series of steps that lead to an end point but the series of steps to lead to the point where we can begin.
On to the next leg of the journey and to new truth and understanding.