(That’s my second Beatles reference, for those of you keeping track.)
It’s been almost a month since we returned from our family vacation to the West Coast.
We landed around 9pm on June 25th, Sarah went back to work at the kids’ camp early early the next morning, and that evening we celebrated Mark’s 21st birthday with another pizza party at our neighborhood pool (the shots of whiskey at the end, provided by his best friends, were somehow just….perfect. I know…I KNOW he loved it, just somehow).
Our vacation was quite the adventure. We wound – literally – down the many scenic curves of the 101 and A1A, driving from Portland to Crater Lake, then on to coastal Crescent City and the Redwoods. From those magnificent giants (beyond awe-inspiring) and our first glimpse of the chilly Pacific, we meandered inland a bit to scenic Santa Rosa and the Napa region (yes, we did a wine tasting! Sarah’s legal!) before heading to San Francisco for a long weekend. After that we headed south to Monterey and went whale-watching (wow. And no one threw up), overnighted in San Luis Obispo with my second cousin, and then we “landed” (exhausted…the traffic just seemed to get worse and worse, the farther south we got) in Manhattan Beach at a VRBO condo, where we stayed for the final 4 days of our journey.
As I opened the blog editor moments ago and pondered a title for this long-overdue post, what you’re seeing up there just popped out of my fingertips and onto the page, and it’s so apt. Thanks, God, for that prompt. What a great description for our vacation, as well as for the life journey we are on; how fascinating when you can see a theme, an echo across and through the layers of your existence. That long, long drive (over 1400 miles) was so completely lovely at times, such as slog at others (like when highway crews would shut everything down for 20-25 minutes at a time). Light to dark, jaw-dropping beauty to filth; the murmurs of antiquity, of times long past buried in the heart of a giant sequoia still growing even now, mere inches from an asphalt superhighway. What we miss as we speed through life; what we gain when we take that long, winding road.
We are not the chattiest travelers, we Sloughs. Before the kids could read, car trips included a lot of music – children’s (Raffi was beloved), bluegrass, spiritual and secular (Sarah has often said she was raised on Handel’s “Messiah” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody;” we know all the words to both). But even before they became fully literate (books are like nucleotides in our family DNA – we’ve read to the kids since they were tiny babies), we had what became a tradition: just before a trip, we would go to the library and fill a VERY large bag with dozens of books. That bag would sit on the van floor between Sarah & Mark’s captain’s chairs and they would plow through book after book, then novel after novel. As they grew older, the earbuds and ipods/iphones appeared, then laptops, and cut into the reading time, but it’s a treasured memory, apparently, and not just for me: just before we left on this trip, Sarah said, “We’re going to the library, right?”
My beloved big sister joined us for a good chunk of the journey, which was marvelous in a million ways and also helped me get over the “3-legged stool” feeling in my gut…we are adjusting to our new reality, but having 4 people in the car felt better, most of the time. He was never far from my mind. Every stop, every meal (especially that – oh, he loved food!), every drink (oops. Not really. Mark would have turned 21 after our vacation and he would have NEVER let us hear the end of it, that we “robbed” him that way), every opportunity to tease and be playful. As I wrote a few months ago, in our annual letter to family & friends, Mark was and is the leaven in our bread, the zippity in our doo-dah. The quirky, goofy, silly energy he brought to our family is sorely missed.
And he was with us. I knew I would find coins. Twenty-seven pennies (I saw more, but it got a little ridiculous at times), 6 dimes, 4 nickels, 3 quarters. Puzzle pieces, feathers, paperclips. The very best: finding a 1996 penny waiting for us on the stoop of our condo in Manhattan Beach.
I am not needed at work as often during the summer, so I’ve put some time into things at home, but I am struggling: I need…focus? Purpose? Direction? I’m managing the depression for now. Sarah does not need me the way she did when she was younger…she’s a breath from complete independence. Steve’s running his business, my MIL is content at her retirement home and I don’t need to manage her affairs as closely.
So: now what? It’s not that I lack things to do – we all know that a house, a yard, a body, family, friendships all require maintenance and upkeep. I have my job with Steve, I have the preschool job starting up again in September. But is any of that ME? Or just me responding to the needs I see, while I ignore or don’t work harder to find that which lights up my soul…?
I was in this space, a good-sized mid-life crisis, before Mark died. The question remains: where will this long, winding road lead next? Do I just keep walking/driving and see what happens? Should I look for exit ramps, different routes? A little dirt road that goes up and over a hill to a place I cannot yet see?
Is it time?