I recently returned from what I have referred to as a “drive-about” (“Like a walk-about, but with a car…”) that took me on a month long journey to the great American Southwest. Driving just over 6,000 miles in the little car I had inherited from my late mother, I toured myself around northern New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona on a voyage of self-discovery.
Driving most of the way in silence, it gave me much needed time and space away from the home and work that Kate and I had shared for over ten years. It would be a time to be alone in my thoughts and feelings, to readjust and rebalance without my spiritual Twin. Foremost in my mind, however, was the idea of using the trip to find a new, more conducive place to live, one that I would find commensurate with the new and higher level of consciousness that my journey with Kate though illness and death had lifted me to; a place where I could blossom.
On my way out west, I planned to stop at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wanting to thank once again the loving and dedicated staff that was so kind and generous to Kate, but also to show them that I was OK. I wanted them to see through me that the very difficult and emotionally demanding work they do resulted in great benefit to life and wellbeing, even though the patient had succumbed. They needed to know.
I carried with me Kate’s winter hats to pass along to other patients with newly balded heads or “chemo hair”, and a big bag of beads from her “bead bowl” at the Mesa to replenish the meager supplies of the jewelry classes offered to patients and caregivers that both Kate and I had diverted ourselves with during our 4 month stay as her life came to a close.
I arrived there on the second day of my trip after spending the night in Effingham, IL. (Town motto: “We’re close to I-70!”) It was difficult for me to walk in the front door of that most generous institution again, but I was quickly surrounded with those who had become family to me through that terrible process. I got through a whole day of visiting and revisiting without feeling too shaky emotionally, my deep gratitude keeping me grounded. Once again it was hard for me to leave the welcoming comfort of what had for a time become my home and family, but I pushed westward through a driving evening rain, coming to rest in El Reno, OK.
As I drove along the next day, I pulled off the interstate at one of the big Cherokee Trading Post stores, captivated by the giant proud Indian on top of the building, doing so much to the chagrin of “Jill,” the voice of my GPS. When I went inside and saw all of the high quality silver and turquoise jewelry, dream catchers, drums, native pottery, and fringed leather bags I began to tremble.
I was there with it alone, facing an ocean of the very things Kate had loved best and had been the mainstay of our interpretive craft work together. Seeing it beautifully displayed for sale when I was in the process of divesting what she had lovingly collected felt deeply sad, and rendered me unable to contain my tears. I wiped and wiped at my eyes as I looked around, recognizing that my journey had barely begun.
I drove onward through Texas, sighting a bobcat while stopping at Palo Duro Canyon Park before spending my first night in New Mexico in Tucumcari. I had already been four days on the road and as I sat in that dingy motel room recognized that even if I chickened out on my quest and turned around, I was facing a minimum of three days to get back to my adopted home outside Pittsburgh.
Though I had traveled solo for work in my younger days, I had never taken a sightseeing trip by myself before. I would always joke that the trouble with me taking time away for a vacation was that “Brad” always came along, dragging all of his personal baggage with him. It was now just the two of “us” and I had reached my point of no return.
The next morning after taking photos of the many murals that brought the town Rt. 66 fame, I headed down the road. After a while, I saw a sign saying that it was 90 miles to Albuquerque, NM, the place I considered the real starting point of my trip. After already covering over 1,600 miles with little but the sound of the wind over the car and my own voice in my head, 90 miles seemed like a snap: “Only 90 miles,” I probably said out loud, “At the speed I’m going it’ll take me less than an hour and a half to get there. All I have to do is sit here and move through time and space until it arrives. I can do that!”
This became a potent metaphor for my new solo journey through life. I knew great things awaited me in the future for which I could do nothing to hasten. I just had to live through the experiences of the next 90 minutes, 90 miles, 90 days, or whatever it might take to get there. I could choose to simply remain present, relax and enjoy the ride.
When I finally started seeing the exits signs for Albuquerque, a panic set in. I had claimed this city I had last visited ten years ago as the true starting point of my journey, but had no idea in that moment where within it to land, it seeming so vast in its flatness at the foot of the Sandia mountains. This would turn out to be only the first of many times on my trip when I found myself asking, “What am I DOING? What did I think I was going to find? What am I looking for?”
I quickly found a hotel with the help of my GPS and my real voyage began. I spent the next three weeks crisscrossing New Mexico, a bit of Colorado, and Arizona, looking at all kinds of things and talking with all kinds of people, hoping to find some sort of big red arrow pointing, “HERE! Here, Brad. This is where you need to be…”
In the next three weeks I spent time in Taos, Santa Fe, and Gallup, NM, Cortez, CO, Flagstaff, Cottonwood, Jerome, and Sedona, AZ. I stood on top of mountains, sat by the Rio Grande, and looked at acres of amazing artwork. I visited places of stark beauty, cultural significance, and ancient sacredness. But I never found that arrow.
As much as I was loving the high altitude, dazzling landscape, endless blue sky, bright sun, native culture, and friendly people, more than once in my solitude did a little voice remind me that my life’s work and Highest Path could still be in the Pittsburgh area. I knew if I found that to be true, I could only stay and serve. After all… it’s only 90 miles to Albuquerque.
To be continued…