The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver

We all need a guide sometimes. I am not talking about a field guide to birds, though if I had to choose it would be Sibley, hands-down. I am referring to the kind of guide who helps us negotiate choices and paths to follow, a mentor who invests in us beyond the daily vicissitudes of life to get down deeper to the nit and grit that makes each of us such complicated, individual beings on this planet.

If we are lucky, we find a really patient person to offer wisdom, a shoulder to lean on, and an ear for listening. I have had many such individuals pass in and out of my life—a grandfather, a handful of teachers and professors, friends and lovers. These individuals have left their mark, no doubt, but they remain individuals and their physical presence has been fleeting. My grandfather held my hand through many years of childhood, but a tumor beside his heart left me lost and alone at the age of 12 and a half.

Toss in one teacher in middle school, a handful in high school, and a couple professors woven through the fabric of academia, and I have made it through three decades. I wouldn’t say I jumped out of bed the morning of that auspicious day that marked 30 years to wave my own flying colors, but I got there, at times slow and steady but more typically in what you might deem a “marieke storm”.

My wild, chestnut mane, tangled with rufous streaks, curls splayed out in every direction, is fitting with my tendency to move in abrupt, tornado-like streaks from place to place— from the remnants of a glacial valley in Washington to an outwash plain in Alaska, through forest, stream, or clay-laden mudflat.

Now, I find myself in wild Arizona, amidst Manzanita, great boulders, vast, blue sky above, and Gambel’s Quail below. There is romance and beauty I could not have imagined in this strange corner of the planet, an ocean in the sky to fill my heart when it longs for an ocean at my feet. And still I wait for a sign from the universe to guide me.

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