On February 20, 2017, I celebrated thirty-months of sobriety and my commitment to the daily, life-long process of active recovery from addiction.
Its been just under a week since my soles touched down on Colombian soil.
On December 22 of last year, my father picked me up from Ft. Lauderdale airport, the beginning of a visit home for the holidays. It had been nearly a year since we had seen one another, just enough time for me to forget how bright his eyes became when he saw me, how supportive he was when I spiraled enthusiastically down the corkscrew of my newest idea, and how erratic and stubborn of a highway driver he had become.
I’m standing in the center of my room. Things surround me. Stuff. Material items. Yoga mats, Turkish carpets, records, books on sobriety, jewelry from Mexico, vintage binoculars, artwork by friends. And it hits me.
It hits me how much I leverage these objects to justify my self-created identity. And it hits me how deeply I pressure the tangible to communicate to others, and to affirm for myself, who I am.
On one shelf is a framed photo of my father and I holding a baby duck. I’m wearing a light blue bonnet and am no more than two years old. We’re both looking down at the new life, sweetly. If I had to hold only one photograph for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. Why? Maybe because it represents the tenderness and innocence of my father and I’s relationship, a dynamic that would extinguish in the years to follow, only to reignite once again. Maybe because it let’s me believe that my family is rooted in traditions, like visiting petting zoos, perhaps in celebration of Easter.
It’s in really looking, as if for the first time, at the hardly-used tambourine on the floor and the vintage binoculars I’ve never held to my eyes, that I see clearly how I lean heavily on these things, like a crutch. A crutch for interests and talents and skills that were always desired, but never actualized.
The tambourine reminds me that I’m “musically inclined,” albeit not a musician, because I never had the time to learn how to play. The binoculars convey that in another life I was a naturalist, a conservationist, and a defender of Mother Earth.
And then my eyes meet my meditation stool and yoga mat and suddenly there’s lightness to the weight of subconscious acquisition. I see these things as a natural extension of me; the instruments I regularly use to become a more practiced, whole, version of my self. These are the resources that allow me to continue to grow.
I’m in the process of transitioning my life, my things, my self from D.C. to South America.
This transition is teaching me that in letting go of superfluous things, I can shed attachment and damaging identity cloaks like old skin. Consequently, it’s teaching me that in holding on to things of genuine value, I am more succinct with my true, evolving self.
This transition is teaching me that in unpacking how I uphold my ego through a legacy of acquisition, I can unify the divided pieces of my self and tend to them with greater attention and conviction.
This transition is teaching me that in letting go we make space for possibility. This transition is teaching me that underneath my identity, is a self that is uncompromised and has never been more whole.
And so I stand in the middle of my room and I smile. I look at the narrative I’ve authored and the stuff that has held the pen, and I smile. I smile because I accept. I smile because I have faith. I smile because I surrender. All good things will continue to come.
We woke up on the floor; Yosemite Valley buried somewhere below the stiff climbing crash pad under our bodies. The single-room employee cabin smelt of stale trash and bouldering sweat and we were crammed between two twin beds, one that held his roommate who was snoring six inches from my face.
I blindly fumbled around until finding my glasses: the room was a sight. I climbed out from underneath the thin wool blanket and did my best to remain undisturbed while crawling through the door.
Outside was a picturesque summer camp scene: the voluptuous curves and majestic peaks of Yosemite Valley towered over two thick rows of wooden employee cabins.
Chalkboards hanging above each cabin door exclaimed hand-written messages like “Life is an Adventure!” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!” Front porches were decorated with small propane grills and fold-up REI chairs and chalky hiking boots.
It was Saturday morning, just after 10:00am and not another soul was in-sight. And so there we were, Yosemite and I, alone together at summer camp.
After a morning of slow rising, we sipped coffee on his friend’s apartment terrace and discussed the day ahead: rocks to climb, land to traverse, direction to go. Once decided, we threw ourselves into a silver Xterra, fairy pouches full of climbing chalk in the backseat, and made way to the Yosemite Valley General Store.
The parking lot was packed with tour busses, rental RVs, and pedestrian excitement. Our friend, Matt, was working inside of a wooden box enclosure they called the Welcome Booth, reciting to tourists the most “bang-for-your-buck” lookouts in the Valley. When he wasn’t offering insights, he flipped through John Muir’s “My First Summer In The Sierra.”
Inside of the store were provisions ranging from water filtration systems to bear spray to dehydrated dinner packets, all of which pitted us, “The Humans,” against it, “The Nature.”
Next to the provisions were novelty items awarded only once you had conquered it: stuffed red foxes, plush grizzly bears, picture frames bordered with mountain peaks and running waterfalls. I smiled sweetly at the red fox and contemplated how it would fit next to my stuffed red panda, Rusty.
Away from the General Store, cars were stacked like pancakes along the single-lane road. A beautiful, towering blonde woman, a park ranger, directed one car after another. She was a sight. It was a sight. It was a sight that didn’t resemble a Yosemite postcard. And a reminder that, when traveling, experiences rarely do.
Time on the road is often dominated by the hours threaded between one postcard image and the next. It is evanescent landscapes that drip below the horizon, muddled between lookout points. It is insipid details too often overlooked: songs sung along to, how badly you had to pee, the awful taste of gas station coffee. It is incidental moments of self-awareness reflected by translucent lake water on warm September days.
Adventure is easy to confine to a diorama – it makes sense to chronologically arrange journey by destinations and achievements. Progress from point A to point B is easily tracked, and the distance between the two, too often dismissed. Reciting where we were doesn’t require remembering the way.
But what we gain in repeating dry milestones, we lose in experiencing textured magic.
A recent trip to California reconnected me to the magic.
It invited the sacred space between mile markers and exit signs.
It sung of radio static, incessant laughter, and awkward playlists. It felt of heart-filled conversations as heavy as L.A. morning smog and as light as San Francisco fog lifted by the afternoon.
It offered grace and connectivity, clumsiness and disconnect; it moved hurriedly and flowed free of measure.
It was introspection in picturesque scenery and boundless contemplation in empty space, too. It was unpredictable. It was without expectation. It was never where we were headed or where we would end up: it was what happened in-between.
And in this space we reconnected with each other.
And in this space we reconnected with ourselves.
And in this space we lost sight of what we saw, and we learned to see the way.
And even though the trip is over, I’m here, in this space, and I’m learning to see the way.
It’s always learning to see the way.