Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
As I post this, one year ago to the very minute I was sitting in the emergency vet clinic in Boulder. It was snowing like a sonofabitch, and I was holding my boy, a few hours away from putting him to sleep.
The gravity of this anniversary isn't lost on me, and I think I've felt it coming for a while. I've been spending a lot more time outside, a lot more time in my own head, working harder at my job, and working harder at pretty much everything else. I've been investing time in new friends and letting go of old shit. But this is not a post about losing sweet Cooper, this is a post about losing myself, and finding myself, and how sometimes that process is slow, but eventually we all come out from under whatever it is that's holding us down. I've only just wrested myself free from the weight of 2013 and the lightness that I've found as a result, well, maybe it just has something to do with daylight savings time, but I'm making hay, so to speak.
I've warmed to the idea of staying in Montana and my outlook is brighter than it's been since I got here. In fact, it's damn near blinding, which continually surprises and amuses me after months and months of wallowing in self-pity, pint of Ben & Jerry's in one hand, bottle of wine in the other, curled up on the sofa by my Christmas tree (that's still up) killing time and brain cells with a DVR full of shows I'm still not willing to cop to.
Flashback to December of 2012: I wrote a post called The Luckiest, and I was convinced I had it all - the job, the friends, the yoga. I had it so figured out that I shut down the Chasing Arrows blog - which I had started to document my search for the everything - because I had DONE IT. Finished. Kaput. Happy. I re-read that post and I found myself re-writing so many of those words, and thinking about how silly it was that I thought that all that stuff only existed right then and there, and that I thought having it all was about having anything at all.
I've realized that the greatest lesson that's come out of this year is that my satisfaction with my life isn't tied to a place, or a job, or a group of people. It's tied to one person. ME. And that came as a bit of a shock.
What got me through this winter of discontent was me. What got me through the teary nights and listless days was me. The thing that I'm enjoying most about my new place and new friends and new job is me. It's the joy in seeing myself persevere, the joy in seeing myself figure it out, the joy in finding....joy, with me.
And I wanted to share, because I know I'm not the only one who's felt like a victim of circumstance, who's felt like the universe has it out for them, who's felt like they'll just never get it right. I know I'm not the only one who's ever thought they'd finally made it to the top, just to get knocked off and have to start over. I hope that those of you who find some resonance with what I'm talking about here find the strength to keep taking small, deliberate actions inspired by your true desire for living this life, and know that there's really nowhere to go, just someone to be, and you can do that from anywhere.
Much love to all of you who've supported me (again) and thank you, as always, for reading.
I got on the river today. It wasn't part of my plan, but as I was driving home I noticed that the runoff is on it’s way and this might be the last weekend of clear water for a while. I parked in the garage, grabbed my waders off the wall, pulled them on over my clothes and headed out. It was colder than I expected; the late season snow still clinging to the bank in places, but in spite of the PTSD-like symptoms any form of frozen precipitation evokes after this past winter, I found the weather refreshing. I picked my way about a mile upriver in my felt boots to see if anything interesting was happening in one of my favorite spots, but nothing seemed to be biting (or rather, my fly was apparently...not). Regardless, I was on the river on a spring afternoon and though I didn't do much fishing, I waded through some shit while sitting on a rock in the sunshine looking much like an oompa loompa, courtesy of Simms.
As I look toward the glorious Montana summer, my mood is warming with the weather. I've missed being outside - boots and Gore-Tex of some sort guaranteeing me safe passage on whatever path I’ve picked for the day. The solitude that’s pretty much a given out here affords my hyperactive mind a chance to slow its roll after sorting through the barrage of stimuli that rains down on me all week (and being cooped up inside for the last five months has really had me in a state so I've been out of doors as much as possible lately).
This past week has seen a lot of chilling-and-thinking-and-abandoning-my-missions. On Friday, I went out looking for sheds as per my post-work ritual of late - wandering among the junipers, bear spray in hand - when I looked up and my jaw dropped. The sun was setting behind the Spanish Peaks, a herd of elk in the meadow below, the river just beyond. I’d been so focused on my osteoid Easter egg hunt that I’d hardly realized where I was.
As I stood there, staring into the long light of the setting sun, I saw more than the trees and the snow and the animals and the water. I saw a change in myself after a year of refining my process and slowly adjusting my perspective. Since arriving in Montana, I’ve felt victimized by my situation, wronged by circumstance and owed by the karmic forces in which I’ve put so much faith over the years. I’ve been in a state of perpetual resentment of a situation that was ultimately of my own doing and while I hated it for what it was, I hated myself more for losing control of it. The change was subtle, and I can't pinpoint exactly when it happened, but I was no longer feeling so put upon by The Universe.
As I stood on that ridge line, I noticed the shift. Something inside me was growing brighter as the dark crept in around me and I saw things that I’d previously viewed as obligations, heavy obligations, slowly reformed into conscious choices. I didn’t have to give my pup back. I gave him back because I knew that I needed the freedom to be on the wind again, indulge my wanderlust. I gained something big from that decision despite the inherent drama of making the call. I no longer look at my job as what was then my only option before I ran out of unemployment money; I see it as a damn rare opportunity to live in a place that requires most folks of my education and skill set to wait tables. I’m not lamenting the lameness of having to live at my parents’ place; I’m so very grateful that I have a comfy bed and a beautiful kitchen, and that I can walk out my door after work and hop across a stream to wander the woods or fish the river whenever I damn well please.
As the last remnants of the day departed, I knew I should head for home. But as I stood in the woods by myself, marinating on the thought that I actually had all the things I thought I was missing, I was paralyzed. I was glued to that spot, afraid that if I took so much as a step, I’d lose this warm contentment that was beginning to radiate from someplace deep. It grew, and the rush of appreciation for all the little things that have come my way hit me with such force that it physically knocked me to the ground. I sat on my ass in the pine needles, reeling from the realization that I have it again - everything I thought I'd lost and some things I didn’t even know I wanted. And I am so very thankful. I thought about my ability to make meaningful contributions in my community, to create something that hopefully helps others live with more intention and joy, my self-reliance in a place so removed from everything I’ve known - and I was astounded at what I had made out of sadness and anger and insult.
Despite the emotion that still surrounds the catalyst for my move to Montana - losing the Coo Man - I find myself overcome by optimism. I feel more powerful every day as the reality of my capabilities in this new context continues to fill me with an intoxicating mix of elation and veneration for the unexpected joy I’ve found in this wild, remote and often demanding but beautiful place.
As I sat by the river, I thought about my trek home from the ridge line that night, low-hanging branches brushing tears of bewildered satisfaction from my smiling face as I walked down the hill toward my cozy house. I turned my dry cheeks toward the sun and I thought damn, I’m still one of the lucky ones.
And, like I said in 2012, just because you can't see it, that doesn't mean the dream isn't there waiting for you. Mine was, and it still is.