Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to the Future

M and I in 2007

Five years ago, M and I took an ambitious trip. We traveled through the heart of America from my former home in Kalamazoo to the Bay Area. We made the passage in five days.  I was eager to put Michigan behind me, and M had to fly straight off to a wedding in Florida when all was said and done. We drove a 2000 Toyota Solara, which I still own. In it, there was just enough space for all my worldly possessions, M's luggage, and my faithful companion, Jonah, a brown lop-eared bunny rabbit with Buddha nature. I had $800 in my pocket, some unemployment insurance coming to me and a set of relatives in California who had way more faith in me than I did in myself.

Because I don't like to drive and I'm not very good at it anyhow, M did, every inch, from Kalamazoo, to Chicago, through Illinois, and Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico, Arizona and California. I'm probably missing a state or two. I am terrible at geography, which you may already know or will know soon enough. When I first declared my intention to move about as far West as a lady could get, and after my friends determined this declaration wasn't just one of many, many empty declarations I had made in the past, M appointed herself the driver, and before long, there we were, companions together, on the road, traveling through landscapes dominated by grassy plains, dry deserts and majestic mountains.

Let me stop here for a moment. I, for one, am terrified of driving through mountains. There is no explaining this dread terror. It just exists. Since I've lived in the West, I've learned: there are a lot of damn mountains in this country. I've gotten better, but on that trip, I think I must have cried every time we encountered a twisty road or grade.

The truth is, I fretted the entire way, all those thousands of miles. I was excited and scared, not just of the precarious mountain passages, switchbacks, and scenic overlooks, but of the future, which was entirely uncertain. All that had come before that trip seemed easy to me, like the cosmos scribbled down a set of events that would make that  journey inevitable. I was willing to go along with it, because, when the cosmos has you in its teeth, sometimes you just have to lay there until it lets go.

Half a decade later, I wonder, who that person was that divested herself of everything and just let fate take over? Like every moment that makes up the muchness of me, she's still moving through time. She exists. She didn't or can't know what lay ahead, not any more than I can. I wonder, sometimes, what she would think, if she had a glimpse of the present me?

Winter 2007: Sarah looking back to the future

Unlike the complete enigma I encounter when I stare in the mirror every morning these days, I know something of that "past Sarah" floating in the aether of time. I wrote this in my journal, three days before leaving for California. For context's sake, you should know I used to volunteer at a hospice-type home for the dying and Rabbit is a nickname many folks use for me:

April 23, 2007
So, today I'm wondering if I'm finally mature enough to understand my time working at the house for the dying (And, I wonder if that's a weird thing to think about). I remember, then, being so young and thinking: Hey, death, I got you beat; I ain't scared. But, I was scared and each successive time I went to the place, I would leave even more scared. The people who were actually dying were so calm and placid about it; I mean, each day brought them one step closer to oblivion, and they wanted simple things like to watch gameshows or have their feet rubbed or to sit in the garden and watch the birds ducking through, and I thought the whole time: shouldn't something big and profound happen right now? And, nothing big and profound ever happened. At twenty-three, I thought that was a terrible, awful thing.
It's weird, because out of nowhere, I understand the beauty in the simplicity of those desires. 
Why am I thinking about death (Oh, Rabbit, it's so emo of you!)? I'm not really; I'm thinking about change. I'm thinking about radical changes. I'm thinking about moving, I guess. I haven't (apart from the "how'my gonna get this done?" blues) been anxious or frightened or all that stressed out. I haven't been all gushy or ooey gooey about my hometown (I'm sure I'll miss it), and it's not the "big things" I'm interested in, but the small ones. Our little party the other night was so good and sweet and full of...of I don't know. It was gentle, I guess, just like our lives here, and I guess if I miss anything, it will be small: waking up from an afternoon nap to the sound of a banjo, watching traffic go by, the like-family days at M & R's, quiet mornings in the Sprau chatting up the latest departmental gossip w/Blynn, Mike making me coffee on snowy days, the drowsy faces of my students at "too early to speak of," even my brother's crazy talk of Russian conspiracies.
Today, driving to school for the last time, I just felt so excited about everything, the possibility and the newness of everything. I don't need for anything big or profound to happen. Epiphanies and catharsises are great, I'm guessing, but it's the smallnesses of existence that matter to me. I'm going to miss all of these small things. I'm going to miss the truly good and wonderful people in my life right now, but I felt so lucky to be moving forward. I'm going to be in a good place with good people, too. I can't explain how happy I feel right now.

It's 2012.  I'm on the verge of another journey, one which is decidedly less profound in its purpose, design or execution then the last. Physically, I'm in a another place, mentally, too. I wonder now, if it's time to think of things on a macro-level, to begin to focus on epiphany or catharsis when it wasn't necessary before, or maybe those things will arrive when I seek the smallnesses and shared comforts of this place with total earnestness and honesty. In some ways, I've done so much since I arrived in California. In other ways, I've been standing still, very still, whispering: Now what? for a long time.

Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, Kearney, NE. Was this the physical gateway?

There's this garden in Oakland that I walk to sometimes. In it there's a Torii Gate. From what I understand, in Shinto Buddhism these gates often mark the entrance to a shrine. On one side is the sacred, on the other, the profane. On the one side is the spirit world, on the other side is the world of the living. I often go to this garden and stand on one side of the gate. I imagine I'm in the spirit world or in the real world or in one time or that time or the other time. I listen to the stream close by for a good while, then I imagine, on the other side of the gate is another layer of the onion peel, a tiny, thin, microscopic layer, and when I walk through, I've shifted space and time. The change is so subtle I could go between the gate's posts a million times and not notice, but it is different.

On that last trip, M and I must have passed through a Torii Gate. Maybe the trip itself was one. Each measure of distance was another layer peeling back and into something cosmically different. We thought we were traveling through a geographic space--many people make that mistake--, but we were cruising straight through the multiverse. That's pretty cool, mountains and all. The reality we emerged into was quite different than the one we had left behind.

This trip, of course it's a search for America and American identity, and it's a writing project, and it's a couple weeks with my brilliant and amazing friend, but for me, it's a catalyst for change. Right now, I'm listening to the stream just before I walk through a new gate.


  1. I think you're right...that bridge did feel like an accomplishment AND a doorway into some new future. I love those limnal spaces.

    And we are ADORABLE in that photo. I had been looking for that one, and couldn't find it.

  2. Love, love, love the pic of you and M, also the others. Since Chey went to college in NE, I've passed under that arch many a time. Also, I think, the one you're writing of in the Oakland garden (by Lake Merritt?). Re: fear of mountains, how are you w/ canyons? I loved the piece about leaving Kzoo and especially about your experiences with hospice--a work we share. And here's to your road-trip-catalyst-for-change. A G & T to that!


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