When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Victor Frankl
The middle of June found me at Crescent Bar, in the middle of Washington state, a tiny town built into a bend on the Columbia river. It got windy out there and a gust snapped a bolt holding up one side of the awning. I made the acquaintance of Mac, the park maintenance supervisor, and he gave me a long screw that I managed to fit through the holes. Gravity held it together.
I did my laundry, took a shower, checked all Alice’s fluids and cleaned the windows. A 24-foot RV is just enough housework. Any more probably would not get done.
I was still being pushed around by the weather and there was a big storm headed to the Northwest. I called a high school friend who lived in Mt.Vernon with her 89-year old mother. She said it would ok to hunker down in their driveway and put up the tarp. I thought I had the leaks taken care of, but I was learning not to take unnecessary chances. The price of being wrong was too high. If water seeped down into the walls, the mold could drive me out of my home by the end of the summer.
Sandi and I knew each other in high school but not well. We were part of the group in high school that took the advanced placement classes. That’s how it went for me when I joined a new school. At first, I would join the juvenile delinquents. (Must be something about me … maybe they are more accepting.) Then, after I had a chance to play whatever sport was in season in that country, I would begin to hang out with the ‘jocks’. Finally, after a couple of months in classes, I would find a place among the smart kids. I was too ‘rough’ for the scholars sometimes, too erudite for the jocks and too sensible for the hoodlums. Sandi was one of the smart kids. In high school, she was too wild for me. I was shy. Coming out of puberty in an English boys’ school, I did not know how to relate to her. She was a force, looking for guys who knew what they were doing.
I saw her at the twenty-year high school reunion. She was teaching in Europe and traveling the world. I saw her again at the 50th reunion in Long Beach. She invited me to stop by, if I were ever up in Washington. The rain started when I pulled into their driveway in Mt. Vernon. I climbed onto the roof and tied down the tarp. Then I joined Sandi and her mom, Joan, for a beer on the porch, which I could tell was an evening ritual on their part.
Sandi had a car, so we drove to the ferry in Anacortes and took a trip out to Friday Harbor. I was thrilled to be back among the islands. But it wasn’t the solitary, dramatic feeling that marked my first time in the sound, when I was young. Then, it was a new experience blurring the distinction between inside and out. This time, there were people everywhere and formalities to follow. It was much more of an everyday thing. The main cabin of the ferry had jigsaw puzzles laid out on some of the tables, so that shifts of passengers can work on them, while they take for granted the spectacular display of the world around them. Still, it had been the ambition of a lifetime to get back out among the San Juan islands. Something invisible seemed to fall into place.
After the islands, Sandi drove us in her little Ford up to the mountains, where there was snow. In contrast to the desert, where life is languid and stretched out, the Northwest is in your face. The weather wraps you into the landscape. The mountains are higher than you think, the trees are greener and the rivers louder. In the desert one almost feels left behind. In the forest, the earth fills the senses and it is impossible not to feel a part of something more.
After a couple of days, Sandi took off for Hawaii to visit her ex-husband. I moved to La Connor, Tom Robbins’ home town. Some of the coastal towns in the Northwest have a timeless feel. Fishing boats, tied to the pier, peek out of the fog in the early morning. Brick buildings, reminiscent of the 1930’s, solidify the old downtown. Signs with faded colors call out to a new generation of summer tourists.
There was no cell signal this far out, but I didn’t mind. There were plenty of pictures to be taken. I recalled that Eggi had said that she wouldn’t go out to these parts. She said she couldn’t live without knowing she had access to the Internet.
Reflecting on the contrast between Sandi, the adventuress with the flaming red hair and Eggi, the careful ex-techie. It occurred to me that each of us sees the world at a different frequency. As we move through life, what resonates to that frequency catches our attention. It’s easy to forget that there’s a dial. We don’t have to stay stuck in the frequency we started with. By the time we realize that, it usually takes some work and a little sacrifice to change.
In the middle of June, I retreated from the rain once again. This time to Little Diamond lake, in the middle of northern Washington. While coming up the coast, I had been caught in the traffic around Seattle. It is as bad as L.A., or San Jose. It is forecast that, in less than five years, traffic on the 405 in the heart of L.A. will average 10 m.p.h. We are in collective denial in the face of these burgeoning problems. California, food producer to the world, is drying up. Oceans are rising. Poles are shifting. donald trump is president, for God’s sake. What used to be wrong is now normal. What used to be facts are now just opinions. How can we expect to move forward, when we are creating a world in which reality itself is debatable? In a universe where each observer creates their own world, we need a social contract to get anything done. We have to get back to trusting each other. Denial, projection and fear … dominant forces in the mal-adjusted individual … have woven their way into the fabric of everyday life.
Sitting by the calm lake, waiting for the rain, it was impossible not to see the mess we are making. I was reminded of my young days, when I would stride down every corridor that popped up: getting lost, hitting dead-ends, wandering in circles around the rubble… until, eventually, I found a way that worked. After exhausting every alternative, it is time to grow up.
As it is with the individual, so it is with everybody. As above, so below. These days, too many of us are growing old without growing up. Growing up means being responsible for what you think, what you see and what you say. If we would all just do that, we could get on with it. There really is no blame.
I had left everything behind in San Jose. Not just my family, but all the stuff, with which I was familiar. I disposed of all the representations of memories like old medals and trophies, clothes I never wore, a pile of old magazines for which I had photographed the cover, hundreds of books and a collection of old furniture. Remnants of a previous life. Everything I owned now fit into my 20 year-old Tioga Arrow.
A feature of this transitional experience is that the end is unknown. I can’t travel forever. I have to end up somewhere. If the end were known, I would already be there in my imagination and I wouldn’t really be floating unattached. In the same way, if I haven’t fully let go, then I’m not really on the journey yet … because I am literally what’s left after all that stuff is gone. That experience – letting go of all you know, not knowing what comes next, is pure movement. There is nothing for the mind to hold on to. There is only being alive. I was in the transition between one state and the next. A bardo. In the bardo, the usual rules don’t apply. A bardo is the blank page that separates one story from the next. If there weren’t any spaces, there would be nothing to see.
So often, we only tumble into transitional times when we have nothing left to lose. We certainly must be prepared to lose it all, to let everything go, if we want to change, otherwise we are not reaching out to the new stuff with all our might. When we feel like we have nothing to lose, we are open to something completely different. Most of us find it hard to give up something for nothing, but the bardo, the state in-between, must be dealt with, if one is to change. The experience of ‘un-attachment’, of letting go, is as important to our development as the will to get to a new place.
We are our habits, so the process feels like losing an identity. New habits need space to grow. When we are guided by our old ways of seeing, we may miss what is right in front of us, because we are busy looking for something we can only see in a rear-view mirror.
By the end of June, my spirit was restored. The agonies of the Western world were behind me. I was ready to cross into Canada and visit Glen. I had no way to know that I was going to be taken even further out of myself. I just knew there was no going back.