One last gaze upon the sun
Bid farewell to everyone
Kicked that bucket out the door
Where I’m goin’ I won’t need it anymore*
*Lyrics from When I go Sailing Around The Room
by Emmylou Harris & Kate and Anna McGarrigle
The road construction crews at Lee’s Ferry have signs posted along the road indicating where it’s safe for them to pull out with their heavy construction equipment: TURN AROUND. Lacking the hyphen to make it a noun, I read it as an imperative: GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN. The message was clearly meant for me that particular day.
At the ferry, I visited with Lora, who’s in the process of selling her place in Alaska. “It’s time.” When she said that, I thought about how we hold on to things past their expiration date. Her current life doesn’t leave room for a seasonal residence, and being practical, she’s divesting. For a lot more reasons than this, I admire her as one of the bravest people I know.
It’s tough to let go of things we value, even when the circumstances around those beloved objects or habits reduce us to something less than our wonderful selves. Letting go means releasing the ownership and the high expectations, and giving up all the parts of our identity that mesh with the thing that’s eating us alive.
In another place, I was headed back to camp after dark, strolling through a sea of RVs, when a male tabby cat came out of the darkness and flipped over onto his back, inviting a belly rub. This was a cat for fearlessly facing coyotes, one for staying alive in the desert, one for making a lean, cattish living in a friendless place. That’s who I want to be: discriminating and fierce, trusting and also “radically on my own side,” as Barbara Kingsolver once said.
What is the recipe for fearlessness?
At a gathering of homers*, a few weeks ago, someone posed that question. It was probably Jean, who has been experiencing lightning strikes in her tower in the woods, along with more than her share of things at which to wonder and possibly fear.
[*This is what we writers of this column call ourselves, nothing to do with Homer Simpson, which was my first thought when Tony Norris first coined the term.]
Fearlessness has to do with the acceptance of endings and beginnings, the willingness to take our leave and to let go of things – work or possessions or relationships – that no longer work in the context of our new selves. And perhaps most importantly, it means willing ourselves to step gracefully, enthusiastically, into new places, with new attitudes. I picture a perfect circle of creation and ruin and back again.
I grew up leaving places and people, collecting my possessions, lessons and memories into compact packages, unwrapping them in a new home in a new town. Our family embraced that process, shedding unimportant baggage and keeping the best, winnowing down our possessions and relationships.
And so endings are bittersweet, but also familiar and strangely refreshing. I keep thinking about the things that await, all the possibilities, if I move forward. Turn around and, like Lot’s wife, I will certainly turn into a pillar of salt.
August often finds me a bit melancholy, as the light begins to palpably wane, the evenings are still and sounds are muffled by the moist air. The kids are back to school, and I consider buying myself a new fall wardrobe, a rare impulse for me, the shop-aphobic. But this fall holds promise for some new projects that I’ve been putting off, and I’m flushed with anticipation.
My first look at the ruins of the burned out Marble Canyon Lodge were abrupt and shocking, like a sudden death in the family. In preparation for reconstruction, twisted metal objects and unrecognizable shards were being removed by a cleanup crew. The fire revealed a mysterious round low rock wall in the center of the wreckage. No one we talked to remembers where it could have been, but there it was, a perfect circle of creation and destruction.