Dream it, Plan it, Do it

That’s it in a nutshell; the answer to the question that people ask, “How do you go about these solo journeys?”  Choosing the place starts with the question, “Where should I go this year, God?”  I wait to see what comes from inside—my interests, my curiosity, my need.  Various external factors have impacted my choices, including a movie setting, places I’ve heard about from others, locations of hostels.

 

Three years ago, I took my solo journey to Michigan.  I’d never been to that part of the country. Hearing several Michiganian co-workers talk about their drives home made the route seem familiar to me.  An article in my Rails-to-Trails magazine featured the bike path of Little Traverse Wheelway in Petoskey.  Nearby Mackinac Island had a road around the water’s edge just for walkers and peddlers.  I could easily include a visit to my cousin’s in Toledo.  The images of a road trip to discover another area of the U.S., riding my bike on new trails, and reconnecting with my cousin worked themselves into my dream that seemed like the answer to my prayer.

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There was little time for planning.  Normally I’d make my reservations months ahead for my July trip. But that spring was hectic with putting our house on the market and searching for a smaller home for our downsizing.  As a school nurse, I thought I’d go crazy from the stress as the last weeks of school were winding down and I was texting, faxing, emailing two realtors at once.  Several weeks before I was to leave on my journey, I was completely exhausted.

“I don’t know if I can go this year,” I confided to my friend, Paula.  “I’m just so tired.”

She was quiet for a moment, then said, “Well you have to go.  It’s what you do.”

I would be letting her down if I didn’t go, and maybe I’d be letting others down, too.  These were more than trips: they’d become pilgrimages.  Paula had been part of my previous ten journeys—encouraging and praying for me.  Besides, I’d just published a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, entitled, “Annual Reboot,” telling about how my journeys renewed me each year.  If I didn’t go, I would be a liar, not doing what I told those readers I must.

Finally, the week before my trip I reserved a car and most of my lodging.  It was hard finding vacancies.  I packed at the last minute and knew that if I didn’t just take off, I might back out, give in to the urge to stay and unpack those boxes.

 

I loaded my bike and headed out in the pouring rain for Charleston, West Virginia.  I began to let go of my to-do list and the image of the stacked boxes, replacing them with prayers for my journey and the people in my path.

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After a delicious dinner and a good night’s sleep, I drove on for my next two nights in Toledo.  It was nice being with my cousin in her home, where there was nothing to do but visit.  I traveled on to Petoskey and felt the thrill of riding on that path that I’d read about in my magazine.  Pedaling beside Lake Huron on the road around Mackinac Island, I felt God’s presence, stopping to observe the stacked stones that other pilgrims had left, cairns that became altars of worship.

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How satisfying to see my dream was now a reality.  That journey that I was hesitant to take, helped me to step away from my busy life and gain perspective—alone with God in a new and beautiful place.  It was right that, once again, I’d done the thing I do.

How about you?

Have you ever let your to-do list keep you from a higher calling?

How would things have been different if you’d allowed yourself to follow your heart’s desire?

What would help you make that choice next time?

 

 

Navigating a Rough Road

Driving south on I-95 toward my solo journey to Jekyll Island, Georgia, I was reminded of my struggle in that toxic research job.  When I passed the exit for Lumberton, North Carolina, I thought of a trip there to one of our study sites on a very hot day in August.  I didn’t want to go that Friday afternoon.  It was just three days after my second round of chemo and I’d had an increase in nausea and fatigue.  But I didn’t really have a choice.

I’d planned to wait until the next week to take study supplies and review their data.  But the Medical Director had something else in mind.

“When are you planning to visit the Lumberton office, Connie?”  he asked.  “We want to get out there in front of the other study sites with our enrollment.”

I wanted to say, let me wait until next week when I’m more rested and my brain doesn’t have that chemo cloudiness.

“I could go this afternoon since we received their supplies,” I offered, trying to prove I was giving it my best.

“That sounds good,” he said and returned to his office.

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How am I going to do this, I thought, while I packed my car in the mid-nineties heat that matched the temperature of my chemo- induced hot flashes.  It would take at least four- hours –round- trip and probably another hour to meet with the Nurse Manager.  I wanted to back out, but I couldn’t.  “God, how in the world am I going to do this,” I said, half-question and half-prayer.

Then in that ‘still small voice’ that is God inside me, the answer came:

Just trust me to help you through each step of the way.

The traffic was as heavy as I suspected.  When I became drowsy, I turned the air conditioner on high and pointed it toward my face, then took off my wig to cool my sweaty scalp.  Hitting stop-and-roll traffic, I panicked thinking I’d be stuck for a long time, but then I remembered that message and settled down.  Pretty soon the traffic moved normally after I passed the fender-bender and the lanes opened up.  A thunder shower developed and again I was slowed down.  When I grew impatient with the interruption of the storm, I reminded myself, “Just focus on right now.  God will see you through.”

Finally, I pulled into the office parking lot just after three o’clock.  I waited in the conference room with everything organized so we could quickly review their study progress.  After a while, the Nurse Manager joined me.  Right when we started looking over their enrollment logs, someone came to the door and asked to speak with her.

My frustration grew as the clock edged toward four o’clock and I thought about the traffic on I-95.  What could be taking so long?

Finally, she returned and said, “I’m sorry I have to go.  One of my staff members has been taken to the Emergency Room.  I’ll call and reschedule next week.”

I watched her rush out of the room, amazed at the abrupt end to our meeting.  I understood that she had to go but felt beaten down by my futile effort to accomplish my goal.

How can this happen, God, after I worked so hard to get here?

Then in the quiet of that room, the answer came:  You did what they wanted and now you get to leave early.  Everything turned out okay.

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The traffic wasn’t so bad as I drove home and felt the satisfaction of knowing God had navigated me through that rough road.  I later thought of this as the ‘Lumberton Lesson,’ trusting God for guidance every step of the way.

 

What about you?

How do you get through situations that feel impossible?

Is there an incident that became an example of God navigating you down a rough road?

 

 

 

Into a Life

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was already in a fight for my life—my professional life.  I’d left my secure job as a school nurse to give clinical research a try.  The company where I landed was a toxic working environment.  I planned to escape to something better– once I passed the one year mark.  But when I was almost there, a routine mammogram stopped me in my tracks.  I would be headed to treatment.

I know I’m not the only one.  Others face different struggles when a cancer diagnosis is added to their lives: failing marriages, homes in foreclosure, disabled children depending on them.  Cancer changes the focus for a while—especially the question of whether or not you’re going to live.  But after you’re settled into treatment the struggle that was in place before your diagnosis continues to provide its challenges—and is often compounded with the demands of cancer.

While people soon learned about my breast cancer, few knew about the difficulties I faced at work.  It would be impossible to explain my situation to those without experience with that company—or one like it.  It was easier for them to understand surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  They couldn’t see how embarrassed I felt to be in that predicament as a professional nurse of twenty-three years.

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My itchy wig

The Saturday that I was scheduled to have my head shaved, after I had my first treatment with Adriamycin and Cytoxan, my younger sister took me to lunch. When she opened the conversation with, “How are you doing?”  I quickly responded that the first round of chemo wasn’t so bad, Zofran is an amazing anti-nausea drug, and then I launched into my struggle at work.

“They’re watching all the time,” I said and felt my anger build. “Comparing my recruitment numbers to others who’ve worked in clinical trials much longer.”  My sister looked surprised at this shift in the conversation.  I told her that six months in, they’d met with me and said they weren’t sure I was a good fit.  “I’m afraid they’ll fire me and then I’ll lose my health insurance.”  I broke down sobbing, not about cancer, but about the job that at times was worse than cancer.

She’d expected to lend support to her sister with breast cancer—something feared by most women.  While she tried to understand my work stress, that was probably more difficult because she was secure in her job as a school social worker.

Cancer, like other serious illnesses, doesn’t drop into a perfect life.  It often lands in the midst of an already taxed system that’s teetering on the edge.  I think about this now, seventeen years after my diagnosis, considering how I talk with those who are receiving their bad news.

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Wearing my new hair to my sons’ band concert

Because cancer is not your entire life.  You’re still a person who works, has relationships with family and significant others, has financial responsibilities, and health needs besides cancer care.

My simultaneous struggle with that toxic job and cancer was the most challenging time in my life.  It would have helped if I could have shared both struggles, equally—letting go of the shame of that job.

From now on, after I ask, “How are things going with your cancer treatment?”  I’ll add, “And how’s the rest of your life?”

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What about You?

Have you ever had a diagnosis of cancer or another illness that was known to others, while you hid a deeper struggle inside? 

What would have helped you to open up about that struggle?

How can we create an environment which makes it safe for others to share these private burdens?

 

 

 

Golden Light

There’s a unique beauty in the magical moments at twilight, when just after sunset there’s a golden glow to the earth before darkness arrives.  Last year when I had a two-week writer’s residency at Artcroft in central Kentucky, I spent most nights observing that hilly acreage as my final act of the day.  It occurred to me then that the word gloaming, which is a less familiar word for twilight, sounds like what it means—a golden light that glows.

At the gatehouse where I stayed, there was no wi-fi, no television, and no other residents to get to know.  This opened up space for me to live in the luxury of silence.  I could feel the rhythm of each day, and somehow, I felt grounded in my season of life.  The quiet of that house was like being at my Grandma Smith’s for a week in summer when I was a girl; located on a rural road where my heart quickened to the sound of an approaching vehicle; paced by nature with outside activity in the cool of the day; led by my natural energy instead of external demands.

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My day started in the kitchen, opening the door to morning coolness since the house only had a window air conditioning unit upstairs.  Stepping onto the stoop, I often spotted a rabbit at the edge of the grassy lawn.  While I filled the coffee pot with water I looked through the double windows to a bank of wildflowers including chicory with lavender blooms.  Throughout the morning, I watched those flowers to see at what point the sun became so harsh that the blooms gave up, pulling in their petals and calling it a day.

The kitchen table became my morning office, with devotional books, references on memoir writing, and pen and paper for drafting the next chapters of my sequel memoir.  There I worked at a steady pace, drinking coffee and occasionally going to the door to check on my rabbit friend.

Around noon, I’d eat lunch then drive to the next county to enjoy the air condition and wi-fi of the Paris-Bourbon County Library.  I watched as families came in to check out DVDs for children home for summer, old folks read the newspapers, and others—like me, came in to use the free wi-fi.  I stayed through the sweltering afternoon that sometimes-produced thunderstorms.  When the day was exhausted of the heat and I had used up all my concentration and ability to create, I returned home.

I passed farmers on tractors who were finishing up, cows cooling in the pasture stream, and commuters returning from their jobs in town to their country homes.  I’d eat dinner in the quiet of that kitchen and listen for the occasional passing truck or car with a muffler in need of repair.

When the air finally cooled, I’d head out for my evening stroll.   A dirt road ran from the gatehouse to the estate that was at the highest point of the four-hundred-acre property.  I’d walk for a while, then stop to observe the changing sky at sunset—an artist canvas of colors behind the Kentucky hills.

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Almost to the estate house, I turned to look at the expanse of Artcroft and think about the day– the rabbit at breakfast, calming silence of this solo journey, the work I’d produced without the distractions of housework that I would’ve had back home.

And then, in the golden glow that is the gloaming, it was as if all that had been was burned into beauty and light just before darkness pulled its blanket over the day and sleep prepared me for another.

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http://www.artcroft.org/site/about-artcroft/#history

What about you?

Have you experienced that magical light?

How can you allow yourself to follow a more natural rhythm in your day?

 

 

 

Distant Cousins

As I grow older, with time passing rapidly and the future pressing in, I feel a need to reconnect with my extended family.  It’s like I want a second chance to know them.  Since my mother and father were both from families of eight children, I have lots of cousins.  One cousin I’ve wanted to spend more time with is Shirley.

When we were young, her family lived in New Jersey.  They would come down to see us at the ‘homeplace’ in North Carolina, where Shirley’s mother and my father, sister and brother, had grown up.  I was raised on that farm, and as a child was so excited when Daddy’s siblings and their families visited.  I’d missed that as I’d grown up and moved away.

Several years ago, Shirley came down for a brief stay.  Although she’s ten years older than me, we got along well and seemed to have common interests.  She had an easy, gracious manner and invited me to visit her and her husband in Toledo, Ohio.  I decided to take that road trip to Michigan that I’d been thinking about and go by Shirley’s.

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After a long, tiring day of driving by myself, she and her husband, Bart, greeted me—along with their vivacious puppy, Greta.  We sat in the cool comfort of their living room, enjoying a leisurely conversation– the way I remembered visits in childhood before life became so hectic.  That evening they drove me around Toledo and took me to their favorite Greek restaurant, eager to show me a good time.

The next morning, Shirley and I sat for hours on her screened porch, drinking coffee and comparing notes on our separate lives.  We soon discovered that our families had labeled us as having traits of our unmarried Aunt Polly.

“Yeah, they called me ‘particular’ and said I was like her,” Shirley told me.

That was an easy conversation for me to imagine.

“I heard the same thing ten years later.  Told me I might not find a husband if I kept being so picky– like Polly.”

We agreed this label was a complement; being like our loving aunt who appreciated art, was an avid reader, and had a creative spirit.

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Polly cooking in the farmhouse kitchen

We finally ended our conversation on the porch to leave for lunch with Shirley’s friend, Kelly at the Toledo Art Gallery.  That afternoon we shopped in Perrysburg.  It was a fun outing with my cousin showing me her favorite spots, seeing her life that I’d only known from a distance.

For the remainder of my visit, we’d launch into a conversation of discovery, each one asking for clarification of a family event.

“I remember y’all visiting at Easter when I was six.  You went ‘uptown’ that Saturday and bought some 45s.  I wanted to be a teenager like you.”  I could hear that record playing over and over, maybe Dell Shannon’s “Runnaway” that was on Billboard’s Top 10 in April of 1961.  Shirley thought that was accurate and remembered how she and her younger sister, Polly—who was actually named after Aunt Polly but less like her than Shirley, thought it was fun to visit us in Sanford.  That surprised me since I thought it would seem so small town to them.

When it was time for me to leave, I hated for our visit to end.  I liked hearing her perspective on life in her family and her impressions of mine.  It was nice to discover how we shared an identity with our Aunt Polly, and now with each other.

If I hadn’t taken the time to include the visit with Shirley, I would’ve missed an opportunity to see how we fit into our Rosser family.  I came away knowing more of myself by having a second chance to know my cousin.

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Connie and Shirley shopping in Perrysburg

What about you?

Is there a family member you’d like a second chance to know?

What steps could you take to make that happen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Mama

Today is Mama’s 94th birthday.  We’ll gather at the nursing home and she’ll see that there’s something special going on: great-grandchildren bringing her balloons, tables covered with bright cloths and vases of flowers, birthday cake and family singing to her.  Thinking about how little she understands now, I’m glad I went in search of her when she could still comprehend.  How excited she was when I told her I’d take my solo journey to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

She and her cousin, Yvonne, traveled there in January of 1943 when they were just 19-yrs-old for training to work in the WWII effort.  They loved telling stories about their escapades during the six months they spent away from rural North Carolina.

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(L to R) Yvonne Gilchrist, Mary Willis, Mary Smith–aka Mama

Since Mama had declined with dementia, she was barely able to join Yvonne in telling their stories.  I needed to go there to explore while there was still time.  Yvonne gave me the details she remembered of their neighborhood and training facility.

I wanted to be in that place and imagine Mama at nineteen.  I’d never thought of myself as being like her.  We didn’t favor in appearance— she was a redhead and freckled and I took after Daddy— with dark hair and skin that tanned.  Moreover, I didn’t think we were alike in our personalities.  She seemed so pragmatic while I tended to be a day dreamer, imaginative.

But for one of my birthdays, she gave me a card that surprised me.  Unlike the usual, carefully chosen Hallmark where she’d underlined and double underlined keywords, this card was different.  On the front was a Victorian era girl walking in a group with a faraway look in her eyes.  Inside the blank card written in Mama’s cursive, she started her birthday greeting with, “To My Dreamer Daughter who is like me.”

I was puzzled by that description of herself and thought I’d missed something.  Part of going to Harrisburg was to try and find who Mama was as a young woman. Once I was there, I walked in the area around Maclay Street where they’d rented a room from the Flute family.  I took pictures of every building that could have been there back in 1943.

 

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Yvonne and Mama–in their eighties, cousins and best friends

 

At sunset, I walked by the river and remembered a comment Mama had often made about that cold January.

“The Susquehanna was frozen solid,” she said, and you could see that for a moment she was transported back in time.  As a child from the South, she would have been warned to stay off any body of water that appeared frozen.

I drove out to Hershey Park and thought of how Mama and Yvonne had gone there to a Big Band concert.  What an exciting and scary time—as Mama had four brothers who were in the war.  It must have been hard for Grandma and Granddaddy Smith to watch their young Mary leaving as well.  How brave of Mama to go, anyway, knowing the pressure she probably felt to help out at home.  She was the middle of the three girls, like me, but her older sister would have never ventured out like that.

I’m adventurous like Mama, I thought, the first time I’d realized what we shared.  My view of Mama had been shaped by her role as our mother, wife of my father, and pragmatist who’d lived through the Great Depression and WWII.  Before all that, she was a girl with dreams, like me.

While I’d gone to Harrisburg in search of Mama, I returned knowing more of myself.

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What about you?

Have you ever gone on a journey to better understand someone?

How did what you find change you?

 

 

 

 

Places in My Path: Antietam

Yesterday’s celebrations of the Fourth of July are now vivid memories: backyard barbecues, American flags, booming fireworks exploding into a rainbow of colors followed by a smoky sulphuric smell.  Underneath all the celebration we honor those who’ve earned our freedom.  I was reminded of that on my solo journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia when I visited Antietam Battlefield.

It was unusual for me to go to a battleground.  I’d never done that of my own choosing, only because my parents made us during a family vacation or because volunteers were needed for our sons’ Boy Scout field trip.

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But when I was in Harper’s Ferry, I overheard two veterans talking about all the battlegrounds they’d visited.  The older man commented, “Antietam, to me, was the most impressive.”  If he felt that way, then surely it deserved my attention.  I’d prayed before the journey that God would bless me through the people and the places in my path—knowing sometimes the place has a message.

I didn’t think much about war when I was a girl.  But that changed once I became the mother of two sons.  When they turned eighteen and had to register with the Selective Service, I was fearful that the draft would be reinstated– remembering my male cousins who’d gone to Vietnam. I’d placed those completed forms in our mailbox and prayed that would never happen again.

Moving through the Antietam Museum, I took my time with each display.  There were Civil War uniforms, small treasures the soldiers carried, and then something that stopped me in my tracks– a snare drum.  The signage said it had been played by a fourteen-year-old soldier who’d led the cadence into battle.  Only fourteen, I thought.  Just a baby.  My younger son had played snare for his high school marching band.  I had fond memories of watching him leading them onto the football field.  How scary it would have been for that boy soldier to march onto the unknown field of war.

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I drove about the grounds of Antietam, watching the late afternoon sun cast a golden light across the broad expanse.  The site appeared deceptively peaceful.  I imagined that young soldier with the troops behind him headed into that infamous cornfield.  It was hard to fathom how in twelve hours a total of 23,000 soldiers were killed—the bloodiest day of war in history.  The bucolic setting before me had been a field strewn with bloody bodies, the smell of iron and gunpowder in the air. I could hear the haunting sounds of groans and cries of the wounded and dying.  I imagined the boy shot down in this foreign place and crying out for his mother.

I said a prayer in the dying light for all the mothers now who worry over their soldier children, both their sons and daughters.  I felt guilty that these parents have this burden to bear while some of us haven’t experienced the costs of war.  My heart was filled with gratitude for our volunteer soldiers, protecting our country and keeping us from the draft.

It was a small thing to take the time to visit Antietam.  Walking about the field, I realized this hallowed ground had been in my path to remind me not to forget those who’ve gone before, and to pay tribute to those brave soldiers who now serve.

I join with their mothers in prayer for their safe return to the ground they call home.

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Transported Beyond Cancer

It’s been seventeen years since I heard the words, “You have cancer.”

Now the waiting room, which had always had an acrid smell of chemo drugs, doesn’t make me nauseous.  Before this visit, I didn’t feel anxious like something bad was about to happen.  My sleep has been good, no lying awake at 3:30 a.m. and wondering what the doctor would find.  All of these things were problems the week of my oncology visit, especially the first five years when my triple negative breast cancer was most likely to return.  At that five-year visit, I let out a breath I’d been holding since my diagnosis and gave my oncologist a high five.  I decided to leave cancer behind and go toward the life I wanted.

Along the way, some fellow breast cancer survivors have told me they’re having a hard time, always saying to themselves, “What if it comes back?”

When I was diagnosed, I was shocked because I had no family history of breast cancer.  Later, I learned that was true for the majority.  I told a nurse in my doctor’s office that if they’d said I had heart disease I wouldn’t have been as surprised since there are cardiac problems on both sides of my family.

“Well, it doesn’t mean you won’t have heart disease,” she responded.

All these women are right; I could have cancer again and I could develop heart disease.

But in the meantime, I choose to live my life without fear.

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Choose to Live without Fear

If something develops, didn’t cancer teach me how to face it?  I learned that I can handle one step at the time with the solid support of my faith, family, and friends.  Each day, life is dependable in providing amazing sights for those with eyes wide open, enriching sounds for listening ears, and moments of joy for hearts ready to be touched.

My yearly pilgrimages have reinforced my resolve to live beyond fear.  When I have an idea of where I’ll go, sometimes that critical internal voice casts doubt, saying, “Why would you want to travel there?”  I could be paralyzed by this, afraid of making a bad choice that I’ll regret.  What I’ve learned after thirteen journeys, is that if I choose a destination by listening to my heart and wait to see that my energy follows, that plan lands me in the right place.

Before each trip, I experience a resistance to leaving.  It feels like it takes too much energy and would be easier to remain at home.  Since I’ll travel alone, the success of the trip is all on me.  Part of my hesitance is leaving the people I love— my husband and my mother who’s in a nursing home.  There’s also the pang of leaving my canine, Madison.

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When I take off, the first day will be long and tiring.  I’ll probably hit a wall, frustrated and alone and think to myself, “Why did I do this?”

But once on the other side of this wall, I find myself in the place I’ve been dreaming of and I’m pleased that I followed my intuition.  My journey will take me closer to my authentic self.  I’ll be amazed at how God knew me better than I knew myself when I was ‘called’ to take solo journeys.

Now, seventeen years as a cancer survivor, I’m letting go of worry.  Whether it’s a course of cancer or setting out on a journey, I trust that no matter what comes up, I can navigate with God’s help, the support of family and friends, and the goodness of the people and places in my path.

 

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What About You?

What would you like to do if you weren’t afraid?

How could you take a step toward that goal?

 

 

 

 

Vermonters in My Path

On Monday evening I arrived in Vermont after an easy train ride from NYC.  I chose to start out in White River Junction since the Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel, offered Hosteling International beds and was just across the tracks from the Amtrak station.

The next morning, I called the rental car company and learned it would be at least four hours before they’d have a compact vehicle. At home, I never had delays getting a car at the RDU airport.  You should have thought about it being peak summer season in a small town, my critical voice chided. Guess I’ll just spend a little time getting to know this community, I thought and walked over to the Welcome Center.

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The lady who was volunteering, Janet, was a retired elementary teacher.  We had an easy conversation about my solo journeys and our mutual love of reading.  I mentioned that I needed a book, always a precursor to sleep.

“Check our giveaways in the bookcase,” Janet offered. “Jodi Picoult lives nearby in Hanover, New Hampshire.  Might find one of her books in the stack.”

Sure enough, her book, Nineteen Minutes, was there for my taking.  Ironically, it involved a school shooting, one of the things I feared as a school nurse.

Two doors down from the Hotel Coolidge was a knitting store, White River Yarns.  I took in my skein that was hopelessly tangled.

“Oh, we’ve seen a lot worse,” Karen, the owner, told me.  “We can fix that.”

And they did.  For over an hour she and one of her staff patiently worked out the knots.  They included me in the conversation as their regulars came in to make purchases.  When I left, I imagined that if I lived in White River Junction, I’d be part of their circle, spending snowy days in the warmth of their company, ‘knitting the community together’ as the sign said over their door.

I checked with the rental company, sure that my car would be ready.  It wasn’t.  Frustrated, I took my laptop to the hotel lobby where the WiFi was strong. I worked on a story and chatted with Rebecca, the desk clerk. She had a business establishing social media for companies. I told her how I struggled with that, feeling overwhelmed by all the options.  She seemed genuinely interested in helping me and made several suggestions on ways I could be more efficient.

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I dialed the car company one more time and they’d closed for the day.

“That makes me so angry.  They didn’t even call me back,” I told Rebecca.

Outside, the rain that had been a drizzle was now a monsoon.

“Maybe you weren’t supposed to be out there driving in an unfamiliar place,” she said.  “Wouldn’t be safe.”

Her words helped me to settle down.  I prayed each morning of my journeys that God would lead me through the day, blessing me and the people in my path.  Today was how it was supposed to be, I thought.

What I couldn’t see then, was that the next morning I’d have that car and drive to Hanover and explore the setting for Picoult’s novel, eat lunch in lovely Woodstock, then travel west to Button Bay State Park where I’d spend my next three nights by Lake Champlain.  I’d maintain a Facebook friendship with Janet and Rebecca, seeing that area in all seasons through the pictures they posted.

When I left Vermont, I carried with me the beauty of that place and the kindness of the people in my path.

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Sunset on Lake Champlain

What about you?

Have you experienced roadblocks in your travels that turned out to be a path to a better place?

What was your Take Away from that experience?

 

Sunday Suppers

It was almost 9:30 on Friday night when the Amtrak train finally pulled into Penn Station in New York City.  The eleven- hour ride from Durham was my first solo journey by rail.  Our younger son, Ross, was twenty-eight and had lived in Manhattan for five years.  I would spend the weekend with him before I continued my trip on Monday morning to White River Junction, Vermont.

While my husband, David, and I had visited Ross several times in the city, I’d never gone by myself.  I looked forward to our visit but wondered how it would be for him to have his mom staying.  When things became testy with Ross—the typical parent and adult child tension, David was good at defusing the situation with his sarcastic, male humor—which he and Ross shared.  I would remember David’s advice, “Don’t ask too many questions.”

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The crowd of travelers in the tight space of Penn Station was difficult to navigate. It was noisy with frequent announcements of arrivals and departures, fretful children, and a protest group that marched through.  What a relief when I saw Ross. He gave me a hug and kiss and took my heaviest bags.

“Is that the barbecue?” he asked, pointing to the thermal bag hanging from my shoulder.

“Sure is,” I answered.  He’d told me his friend asked if his mom was bringing treats, and when he told her about the barbecue, she said, “Only a mother’s love.”

Ross hailed a cab and we took off for the Upper West Side.  It was a relief to arrive at his second story walk-up in an older building with high ceilings and creaking wooden floors.  He apologized for the small amount of space, especially the tiny bathroom.  My husband and I usually stayed in a nearby hotel when we visited.

“It’s fine,” I told him, “I just like being here with you.”

By staying with him, I was getting to see more of his life—how he spent his days.  We weren’t wasting our precious weekend going back-and-forth to a hotel.

On Saturday morning, he took me to his favorite bagel shop for breakfast then we walked around Central Park.  He showed me the baseball field where he and a friend threw the ball and hit grounders.  When I slowed down to look at something, he got annoyed.

“Mama, in the city you can’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk.  It’s like stopping in the middle of the road in North Carolina.”

I was more careful after that, making sure I paid attention and kept step with my city-wise son.  He didn’t have to remind me again as we walked 55 blocks then took a cab back to his apartment.

 

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Enjoying Central Park with my son

 

I asked him where we could go for dinner that night, ready to treat him to a relaxing meal.

“I’d really like it if we could cook tonight and tomorrow night while you’re here,” he responded.  That evening we’d keep it simple and make barbecue sandwiches.

On Sunday, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in record heat for mid-July.  I managed not to be hit by ‘stepping out of my lane’ and into the path of the fast-moving bikers.

On our way home, we stopped to buy groceries for one of Ross’s favorite meals: Biltmore pecan chicken, wild rice, and green beans.

We worked quietly in the sparsely appointed bachelor’s kitchen.  He cut the ends off the beans while I blended the butter and mustard for the chicken.

“When I was in a relationship, we’d always cook on Sunday evenings,” he said and reached for a sauté pan.  I knew the girl he was referring to, one he’d broken up with some time ago.  He drizzled some olive oil and continued, “Because Sunday night is family.”

I let his words sit there, feeling love for my son as we cooked together.

Remembering back to Sunday nights long ago, I was cooking in our kitchen when Ross and his brother, Brooks, came in from church youth group.  We sat down to supper and shared the meal that was a sweet ending to our weekend together.

I’m glad I traveled here to see that my son remembers, too.

 

What about you?

Is there someone you need to visit?

How would it change the dynamics if you were with them without sharing the time with others?