The Long Way Around

I grew up in a small southern town. Most of my friends still live close to where we grew up, and though I applaud their decisions, sticking close to home was never for me.

Because of my dad’s job, I lived the first decade of my life as a bit of a gypsy. We moved cities five times before I was six, if that gives you any indication. But we finally landed in a small Georgia town for most of my formative years. It taught me a lot. A lot about what I wanted and what I didn’t from my life

In many ways, the Dixie Chicks really speak to me because of my life experiences. I got a great, tight-knit foundation with growing up in the South, but I also couldn’t, and shouldn’t deny my wanderlust. “Taking the Long Way,” really speaks to my living wide journey. It shows deep, solid roots, but an appreciation for wanting a little more. To explore the horizon without apology.

Guess that’s my lot in life.

Turn the Page

So long 2012. Can’t say I’m sorry to see you go. To be honest, you weren’t all that bad, but nonetheless, don’t let the door hit ya and all. Buh bye.

Normally, I’m a little sentimental about a new year. I usually try to be positive and think about all the good things that have happened over the course of the previous 12 months. And don’t get me wrong… good things have happened. I was able to leave a job that was not the right fit for me anymore, and walk into a new position that seems much better. I also got accepted into a pretty great grad school program and started taking classes. Not to mention, my friends all hit major milestones, of which I was able to be a part of.

But ultimately, 2012 was the cap of a trying set of years that I am very ready to leave behind. In frankness, Living Wide came along directly in the middle of that season. We’ll call it the brush fire season. Why, you ask. Well, the brush fire is an interesting phenomenon. Pretty much every year, the air gets a little too dry, and the sun a little too hot, which results in a brush fire. It generally rips through everything that is old and decaying, scorching the earth until it’s barren and unrecognizable. In the end, it is so damaged, that most believe, there is no way it could ever recover. But then, something miraculous happens… things start to grow. The land pushes back against the devastation and trauma it endured to become fruitful again. In fact, new things emerge that simply couldn’t have grown unless they were exposed to fire.

It wasn’t until recently that I started to feel that way… fruitful again.

I’ve taken the time to look at who I’ve become over the past few years, and frankly, for a time, I haven’t liked her. She was complacent, afraid, trapped, easily convinced, misguided, weak. She wasn’t brave… not in the slightest. She lacked many things, most of which, was a spine. Harsh words to speak about one’s self, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

If you’ve been following along on this journey, Living Wide started with a death. A very unexpected death of a man who should have had many more years left to live, but didn’t. Who managed to live more life in his time on Earth than most people I know and seemed to have a blast doing it. As I watched those who cared about him say goodbye, I knew that the woman I saw reflected back at me in the mirror every day was a degradation of who I used to be, and it was time to reclaim her.

In 2013, that journey continues. This year, I turn the page.  I’ve decided I will be braver. That I will push out of my comfort zone and stop worrying so much about what is the “right thing to do.” The times I’ve rejected that “right thing” and flung myself blindly into my faith in the Lord, I’ve been rewarded more richly than I ever thought possible. So, in 2013, there is no “right thing,” there’s only the horizon.

Tell me who you hope to be in 2013? Leave a comment.

Things Fall Apart

Confession time: I have not made living wide a priority. Not just the blog, though I’m sure y’all can tell by the lack of posts, but actually living wide in my day-to-day life. The reason… things fall apart. The rub of things falling apart is that it is in those moments that I should be leaning harder into the concept of living wide. I should invite change into my situation; I shouldn’t cocoon in and make myself really small just to weather the hard knocks. I shouldn’t be self-preserving and simply exist, I should be finding a way to rip open the horizon and charge toward it. But, I haven’t.

Let me explain. Right now, my life is hard. It’s hard to get up in the morning. It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to keep going. It’s hard to remember that things will work out. It’s hard to see the glass as half full. It’s hard to fail. It’s hard to not see everything as so hard.

Now, before you say, “You think your life is hard? Let me give you some perspective on what is really hard,” trust me when I say, I recognize that to 99% of the world, my problems are trivial; first world ramblings full of petty concerns. And they’d absolutely be right. There are people in my own backyard and around the world that have it far worse than I. But, a wise person once said to me, DO NOT diminish your feelings. Your feelings are your feelings. Allow yourself to feel them, and don’t talk yourself out of how you feel simply because there’s someone out there that is worse off than you.

In walking through these fallen days, I knew there had to be a lesson somewhere. It was all I had to cling to at times, how could this help me live wide? That’s when I realized, I already was. In watching an interview with Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild,” which I have yet to read, she talked about how not all experiences in life are good or easy, but they will teach you something. And more than that, they’ll help shape you into the person you’re meant to be for whatever life has next for you.

Not that I in any way compare myself to Moses, but it is true that sometimes you have to wander. Sometimes, you know there is a promise land, but right now, you’re not deserving of it. And sometimes, you have to keep wandering knowing that your destination is purely guided by faith; faith that wavers, faith that questions, and faith, that no matter what, will always be there.

So, even though things fell apart, are hard and have left me to wander, if I can, at the very least, draw strength from the fact that there is a lesson in every situation, and what it has to teach me has the potential to urge me on toward living wide, well then, at least I’ve got that.

Finding Serenity

Sometimes you have to leave things just as messy as when you found them. This is a hard concept for my Type A personality to grasp. In fact, I push against this concept with every fiber of my being. I don’t like loose ends. They seem sloppy, ill prepared, like I wasn’t quite up for the challenge, so a lack of success falls on my shoulders. But I’ve recently learned, this simply is not true.

Whenever I’ve transitioned from one stage of my life to the next, it has generally been on my terms. I chose the day to “move on” from a project/job/person. It was always mutually beneficial, you see. I was able to tidy up and package things just so, leaving things/staff/people well equipped in my wake. It was important to me to prove my vitality. It showed that a situation/organization/person was better off for having been associated with me. That I was important. That I mattered.

This logic supposes that I always have the control, which, as evidenced in the Genesis of Living Wide, is flawed. Not always is there a place for everything and everything is in its place. Sometimes you find yourself in an “I’ve done everything I know how to do, I’ve done everything right. Why is this not working? Why can’t I fix it?” situation. Sometimes the needle simply won’t budge. Even if you’ve given your best. Even after you’ve attempted to bargain for a better outcome. And yes, even when you’ve begged a higher power to make it all work out.

When I came to this realization, I didn’t want to believe it at first. In my mind, there is always an answer. If you can’t go around a wall, you go over it, under it, and, when necessary, through it. Obstacles are not impossibilities, they are simply obstructions. But for every rule, there is an exception, I guess. A situation or circumstance that is much bigger than you and your talent/drive/ambition/creativity/stubbornness. And when that happens, you have to make a decision. Do you press on until you completely burn out, or do you leave said person/place/thing just as messy as when you found them and move on.

Many years ago, a succinct little prayer started making the rounds:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Now the mantra of most groups devoted to battling addiction, this prayer serves as a reminder that we are human. We are not limitless or perfect. Sometimes, things will not change because of our associations. Sometimes there are loose ends. And sometimes, we were meant to simply learn from a messy situation and grow because of it. Living wide isn’t about the vanity of a perfect exit and its affirmation of your value. It’s about accepting those things you cannot change just as easily as those you can and using that knowledge to grow your horizon.

The Genesis of Living Wide

About a year ago, in one of those rare moments where I truly was not thinking about anything in particular, I had a vision.  I had forgotten about this vision to an extent over the course of the past 12 months until this weekend when I attended the funeral of fantastic man who left us far too soon.  I seem to have said goodbye to several people gone too soon this year, much more so than in any in the past.  Each affected me in its own unique way, but this most recent death, which no one expected, affected me in a way that was, for a lack of a better word, profound.  It was surprising really, given that I was more of an acquaintance to this man.  We knew each other, we went to church together, I spoke with he and his wife on occasion.  I know it sounds crass, but I thought I would go to his funeral, shed a tear or two in remembrance, be a support for those who had a deeper connection with him, and that would be that.  But a recurring theme in my life reared its ugly head in that expectation was not matched by reality.

As I pulled yet another tissue from my now half-empty pack, I realized how much the world lost when this truly cool man passed.  Here was someone who had lived a wide life.  He experienced it out loud and completely unapologetically.  His family: close-knit, involved and completely in it together.  His career: doing something he loved, which was making music.  His faith: hard won and embraced with abandon.  His funeral was one final lesson to all who knew him, life is meant to be lived, not squandered.  That there is a distinct difference between experiencing and existing.  It was during this time of eulogy that my vision from a year ago came flooding back into my mind.

The Vision
The horizon transformed right in front of me.  Concrete and glass disappeared.  A range of some of the most beautiful, snow-capped mountains appeared several hundred miles in the distance.  The sky was clear, as was the road leading to the majestic peaks, with the exception of one roadblock.  A person standing directly in the center of the road.  I can’t really describe what the back of the person looked like because it wasn’t very distinct.  All I could say is they looked to be about my height.  As I drew closer to the figure, it turned around.  Standing directly in front of me was… me.  I was an arm’s length from myself as if I were standing before the mirror in my bedroom.  Blinking at the revelation, I stared at my own face for several moments, and then, just as quickly as the scene appeared, it was gone.

Now I know there are those out there who would argue that visions are any manner of things.  I think the one I’ve heard most often is that visions are merely latent desires transitioning from our unconscious to our conscious mind.  However, I immediately knew the author of this vision was not me, it was God.  God wanted me to make no mistake that what was currently “in my way,” in every sense, was me.  I was the obstacle to living the wide life he very much wanted for me.  That I, in essence, needed to get out of my own way.

All of this was reinforced to me as I sat among the family and friends of a wonderful man who seemed to do just that, get out of his own way and experience the life God gave him.  I realized, I live small.  I’m like a horse with blinders on, only cognizant of what is directly in front of me.  I only see the obstacles to those things I really want:

  • I need a steady paycheck, I can’t take a sabbatical and figure out what I really want to do with my life.
  • I can’t travel right now, that takes money I don’t have.
  • I have to save for my retirement now because that’s what all the experts say.
  • I’m so tired from work, I don’t have time to: write the rest of my book, learn to sing, learn to knit, learn to dance, learn to play chess, etc., etc.

I am the classic oldest child in that dreams come after responsibilities.  If I’m responsible, then maybe I can achieve one of my dreams… some day.  In her book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert summed up my life in two sentences:

I’d been such a diligent soldier for years – working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of loved ones, my gums, and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty?

In the lines that precede this statement, she talks about always wanting to learn Italian, but never quite getting around to it because she had no practical reason, no future application, with which she could justify the investment of time it would take to learn the language.  Dear Lord does that sound familiar!

So now what?  In light of all this, what do I do with all the realizations that have been ping ponging inside of my head for the past week?  How can I stop living small, and start living wide?  Wish me luck as I seek to find out.