One year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 moments.
Hundreds of thousands of little moments that were really big moments. Countless decisions, ‘wrong’ turns that left me not knowing where I was. Slowly change was taking place… encouraged by the realization that getting ‘lost’ over and over was the greatest teacher I have ever had. I learned to truly wander… and to truly wonder at the majesty that is a moment lived in faith.
I have done things I never thought I would… hitched rides at night with strangers, hiked to high places that left me trembling, driven on the left side of the road in huge European cities filled with maddening one-way streets, hills and confusing signs, driven across country and on single-lane roads of Ireland and Scotland in the darkest night while managing not to kill or maim a single sheep, braved Ireland’s blinding ‘storm of the year’ in a piece of shite car with my daughter asleep in the back seat, showed up in a country with no idea where I would stay that night but a deep trust that it would be alright, lived in the isolated countryside of France and Italy and learned how to be in the deafening quiet and confront the clamoring of my mind and soul, fought for a shred of humanity from my dour, non-English-speaking Greek taxi driver to make a phone call at 2:30 a.m. after traveling for 15 hours and no one being at my hotel to greet me (a booking mistake on my end it turned out).
My life is filled with people whom I would have never dreamed I would come to know and who now are among my dearest friends. I have seen the most beautiful places, turquoise seas, sherbet sunrises and fiery sunsets, starlit nights and full moons, its beams glimmering off of lochs, seas and oceans. The places that I had dreamed of going to are indeed beautiful, but the places that captivated me I would have never dreamed I would be drawn to, yet somehow these places are part of something that answers longings so deep within me I had not known they were there. As I stripped down my life more and more with each passing month, what calls me began to emerge more clearly from the mist.
Perhaps more often than not, the things that threaten to separate us from the gifts God longs to give us are not the things that are ‘bad,’ they are the things that are 90% of what calls our hearts… almost but not quite; a reasonable compromise, a safe bet, a bird in the hand. I have had a fair amount of practice with settling for less than the life God offered me, and still I have many distractions and opportunities to veer off the path, to take a seemingly wonderful direction in front of me… but I know in my heart it is fear that is wooing me. Fear that my dreams are too much, that I don’t deserve this life (and I don’t but there’s this beautiful thing called grace), that what my heart longs for is unreasonable. But the God who I know is the master of the unreasonable, impossible, out of the question kind of life and experiences. I see how true this is as I reflect on both the joys and the heartaches in my life.
As I think back over the year since I left America on April 11, 2010, my heart is full. There are so many more treasures that remain with me, but it would take a book…
Boiled cabbage, ham and potatoes puts me in the company of my first friend in Ireland, Vivienne, who cooked this traditional Irish meal for me and welcomed me into her life and home in my first week of travel. I met her on the bus from the airport.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers make me think of Tyson, the dog owned by my first flatmate in Galway, Ireland. Tyson taught me that Staffordshires are alright; a lot of love and a good environment are what these powerful and loyal dogs need… well, geez, I think this is true for us people too.
Hearing Rusted Root’s Back to the Earth takes me to the view from my bike of the island and coast of Inis Mor, off the west coast of Ireland. Cycling is the best way to experience the island, rain or shine. I tripped over a rock on the beach that day and landed hard headfirst on another large rock… but I still had my bike helmet on. Dazed but no worse for wear. Whew.
When I hear Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, I am turning in for the evening in an artist’s residence, lulled to sleep by the sound of a gifted watercolorist, Caroline, who is also a wonderful cellist. The sound reverberates and fills the high-ceiling halls and rooms of this old, elegantly worn French estate once again.
A spread of artisan cheeses, crusty bread and wine brings forth the smile and laughter of a brilliant artist, Marie from Berlin, and a feast we made at the end of a long hike through the French countryside.
A comforting bowl of leek and potato soup and brown bread bring to my ear the lilt of Irish accents, buoyant and cheerful, and I can feel the warmth of the roaring fire of a roadside pub.
When I hear Track No. 6 from an unnamed CD that I long ago gave away, I am cycling alongside a canal on a rainy day in the Scottish Highlands, the path framed with autumn trees shrouded in the mist.
A cup of Scottish tea with a bit of milk takes me to a breakfast table with a view to the hills rising above a loch in the Lochaber region of Scotland’s Highlands, the United Kingdom’s outdoor playground.
Freshly caught, enormous fish and chips and a wee Bulmers bring to mind sitting in Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, Ireland with my daughter, having the trip of our life.
Seeing a Nissan Micra automobile puts me on a dark, narrow Irish road around the Ring of Kerry, rain coming down, windshield wipers making a racket and the car shaking noisily, inspiring my daughter and I to break out in a made-up song we titled, ‘Piece of Shite Car.’
Bon Jovi’s Living On a Prayer places me in a van and a bus on two different continents—road tripping with a group of people and singing out of key at the top of our lungs; memories of one trip with my youngest son and one with my daughter.
A melt-in-your-mouth scone served with fresh, homemade preserves and clotted cream transports me to a café in Edinburgh where my daughter learned to crave this nutritional luxury that is well worth the indulgence… and inspired her to learn to bake. Her loves-to-bake mom is happy about that.
Seeing the sun break through the clouds and glimmer off of the ocean transports me to the last full day I was in the Highlands; my daughter standing at the water’s edge carefully planning her photo shots, sea birds in perfect silhouette taking off and landing nearby.
Sticky toffee pudding will forevermore bring back the hilarity and fun in trying to make it and remake it (the best dessert fail ever) from an internet recipe in Berlin with my friend Marie for her first Thanksgiving.
A taste of German glubwein makes my nose feel the nip of frosty air and the smells and sights of German Christmas markets come rushing back, bringing the deep joy of talking into the night with my friend Nadine from Wurzburg over a bottle or two of this one-of-a-kind spiced wine. I met Nadine my first week of traveling, in Dublin at a hostel. She was in my dorm room and got stuck in Dublin by the Iceland volcano eruption, and a friendship was born.
Earthy, fragrant olive oil brings me to the Sabina region of Italy, savoring bruschetta (crusty bread with olive oil) several times a day; the oil pressed from their own groves by the artist family who direct the residence where I stayed. I am chasing and being chased by Eteri, their three-year-old son who speaks continuously to me in Italian, which I don’t understand, but our laughter is universal. When he turns to me one night, grabs my hand and I catch the words ‘mi amico,’ I understand. Tears.
The taste of octopus grilled in red wine returns me to the beach of a Greek island; to the sight of fresh-caught squid right off the beach and how different it tasted than anything I have ever had before… how fantastic it is when prepared properly.
Hearing an Australian accent brings to mind my Greek friend, Helen, who grew up in Australia but now lives in Greece.
These are a few of the treasures of wandering and being in wonder. Taking the path into the mist leads to some pretty amazing experiences. And in taking what I thought would be a solitary road, I find that I am more heart-to-heart connected than ever before, no matter where I go in the world. Alone, but never really alone.
Another year stretches out before me, full of hundreds of thousands of little moments that hold who-knows-what. Love, loss, joy, pain… it is all yet to be known. I am grateful that I am better able to embrace the joyful, the unexpected and sometimes seemingly unfortunate occurrences that fall like crumbling rocks from a cliff at times… but when the rocks block my path, something always seems to work out and when I realize it’s time to hike off-road to get around them I often discover that this other way was actually the more interesting path after all.
Thank you to each of you who have journeyed with me this last year. It has meant more to me than you know. I hope you will continue to journey with me into this next year.