Digging In

He knew that under the tall grass of an apparently untamed future the steel rails of fear and habit were already laid. What he suddenly couldn’t bear, with every cell in his body, was to act out the destiny prepared for him by his past, and slide obediently along those rails, contemplating bitterly all the routes he would rather have taken.
— Edward St. Aubyn, Some Hope

It was in traffic in Chicago that my happy forward trajectory started to falter. The weather turned sour as I sat in the midst of a sea of cars, and I drove through torrential downpours for hours, hydroplaning my way across Indiana and much of Ohio before landing at Findley State Park for two nights, very much worse for the wear after a near collision with a big truck, and dreading setting my tent up in the rain. I sat in the car for 45 minutes, trying to decide whether or not it was even worth it, hungry, frustrated, and done with every little part of the journey. Eventually, I dragged myself out of the car and hopped around, muttering curses as I struggled to set up the tent just as the skies opened up again. There was a puddle in the tent when I was done and I was angry enough to wrestle a bear.

The next morning I ventured into town, walking around Oberlin in the rain, trying to jumpstart the warm fuzzy feeling that had so abruptly left me as I headed away from Milwaukee. I rallied a little bit, and the sun helped by coming out, but by mid-afternoon, I'd smashed my Kindle's screen enough to make it unusable, and my phone started acting funny. I went for a walk in the woods, which helped a little bit. As I moved through the trees, I tried to put my finger on what was bothering me so much. I was starting a long, slow slide into a depression. I didn't want to go home. I wanted to stay in this floating sort of incognito, pushing onto a new place. I wasn't sure I would fit at home. I couldn't tell how much I had changed, but I knew I didn't feel like the same person. I was afraid to look at my new self against the backdrop of my old self, and to then have to sit with all of it. Most of all, I didn't want to lose all I had gained: this new lightness, a readier smile, the drive to connect.

I left for Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park in the morning, resolved to make the best of the next few days. I visited Cucumber Falls, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. I squeezed into an Andy Goldsworthy installation at Kentuck Knob, gazing up at the trees that grew out of its center, puzzling over how I would ever remain the new me when I returned home. I watched clouds scudding across the sky above bright green hills outside the house and found a little bit of grace inside myself. 

I woke the next morning with renewed hope, basking in the sun and looking forward to seeing my friend Elizabeth and her family. Along the way, I stopped at the Flight 93 National Memorial, which caused a gut punch of complicated, agonizing emotion. I'm not sure why I thought I could make a quick stop at such a powerful, somber memorial. The building sits in stark contrast to the meadows in which it is placed. The tall walls feel like a downed plane. The glass wall at the end of a long walkway allows the viewer to see the crash site and the long memorial wall in the lower field. Everyone spoke in a low voice, visibly moved by the immense tragedy that took place here. I went inside and quickly moved through the exhibit, overwhelmed by the sounds of the final calls made to loved ones, footage of the two towers, and the sight of so many people with tears in their eyes. I walked the lower memorial wall, running my hands along the stone, thinking about the people who died in that amazingly beautiful spot. After, I sat in my car and cried.

After gathering myself together, I moved on toward Elizabeth's house, unsettled, upset, and very much looking forward to something lighter for a couple of days.