Lovely, Dark and Deep
A lot of people thought I was batshit crazy for undertaking a 1600+ mile road trip with three kids and a dog and no extra adult to help. In some ways, I'm sure they were right. But in the ways that matter, I knew it was exactly what we needed.
Director of Global Programs was once one of my (many) assorted titles, and I still preach the gospel of experiential learning as part of my professional calling. Setting out into the world together as a group is transformative; the resulting whole is far more than merely the sum of its parts. Think about the journeys that are central to so many of the best stories of literature and film: we grow and refine ourselves and our relationships with the others in our band of fellow travelers by rising to meet challenges, dealing with boredom and waiting, planning and providing for each other. After the separation and divorce and over a year of living a life that looked so much like our life-before yet simply wasn't, we needed a period of formation as a unit of four (plus dog).
So we drove to Texas.
Armed with Spotify playlists and a ridiculous data plan for my phone, we crossed Pennsylvania. My oldest and I marveled at a tractor pull happening in some fields on the side of a rural stretch of the highway. We crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, and I texted my uncle that we were finally back on the "right" side. He wrote back that generations of my relatives could stop spinning in their graves, and I had to laugh. At some point on the way, we heard Nico and Vinz's song, "That's How You Know" and cracked up at the lyrics.
We found a routine at rest stops: I would pump the gas while my son took the dog to a grassy area near the pumps. The two girls would go into the gas station for the bathroom and snacks. Then we would switch indoor/outdoor responsibilities and get back on the road. My children, who usually bicker and scuffle at the slightest provocation, seemed to understand how dependent we all were on each other's general well-being, and for the most part left each other alone. They could even be described as cooperative. I counted it a miracle.
Somewhere along the way, I got a text message from an acquaintance in Texas who--in a life-is-strange kind of way--reconnected with me through this blog and my post about the Fourth of July. He had also been in Boston on the Fourth and also went to the Red Sox/Astros game, so he sent me an "It's a small world! And divorce sucks, but it gets better," email (which I didn't get for several days because after setting up this email address, I promptly forgot about it; I check it regularly now, and I love to get email, so write away!). I didn't get his message until the day before the movers came, so I gave him my phone number as a better way of communicating with me. I was pleasantly surprised that he used it.
He grew up in West Virginia, which the kids and I would be crossing during the day's drive. When I stopped at a rest stop, we had a quick exchange about how beautiful that part of the country is. I checked my phone for new messages about a hundred times throughout the rest of the day.
We drove through West Virginia, Virginia, and into Tennessee. We got into a rhythm and a groove and by the time we checked into the hotel I had booked in Chattanooga, we were ready to stop but not exhausted. The kids went swimming to burn off some excess energy (cut short by the two oldest thinking they could cure the youngest of her fear of water by forcing her into the deep end--I could hear her blood-curdling screams from the pool all the way down the hall and inside our room). I ordered takeout for dinner from a restaurant nearby and took the photo above on the drive back to the hotel.
Driving gave me all kinds of time to sit and think, and I spent a lot of time praying. I prayed for my children, for the life we were moving toward, for my family, for my friends. I prayed for people I love--those whose faith defines their lives and those who don't believe in God at all and everyone who falls somewhere in between. One of the gifts of this journey was hours of (mostly) uninterrupted time to think about all the people who make life so sweet and beautiful, even in the midst of upheaval and transition and all the attendant pain and fear. As I sat on a hill in Chattanooga and watched the clouds turn red with the setting sun, I tried to embrace the not-yet, in-between of it all.
A few years ago, I recited Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" at my school's holiday concert. My voice shook then because I hate speaking in front of a crowd, but the words have stuck with me ever since. That night in Chattanooga, though it was the height of summer, they came back to me again. I had promises to keep, for sure, and many miles to go before I could really sleep. But watching that sunset was a moment of similar stillness and grace for me. I let it linger as long as I could.
My son and I drove back down the hill to the hotel where my daughters were waiting for their food. We ate, watched TV, and snuggled each other into sleep. Day Two down; two more to go.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.