Monday, January 29, 2018

Still Waters and Snowy Memories

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that ten years ago today I rolled west from the Chainring compound in Powell County, Kentucky heading for a new job in Golden, Colorado.  The family would follow four months later, but on January 29, 2008 I woke before dawn and slipped out to my already loaded down Subaru Legacy and started to drive away.  Only a few seconds down the road my phone rang.  It was Mandy.  Why hadn’t I woke her to say goodbye?

And therein lays some insight into the entire five-year Colorado Experiment.  I knew the move was going to be hard on her (all of us really), and I knew leaving four months early was going to be the hardest part of it, leaving her with the kids—Boone five and Lily had just turned one—and so I slipped away hoping to dull the sting.  Admittedly I wasn’t thinking clearly myself.  That was a stupid thing to do.  So I turned around and went back to say goodbye to my incredible wife who bore the brunt of the Experiment.

At the time, I didn’t expect her to end up loving Colorado as much as she did.  I was afraid I was dragging us all into a miserable situation even though it seemed to be full of promise.  We were taking the kids somewhere new and foreign.  We were giving them perspective.  And in a metro area of two and a half million people surely there would be ample opportunity for us to thrive. 

A little later in the Experiment

While I felt the anxiety of the unknown—how the move was going to affect all of us—I was also excited and looked forward the new adventure, new experiences, and most of all the new mountains to climb.  I assumed I would be the one to fare best out of the move, and selfishly I was okay with that.  The family would cope.  It would end up being good for them one way or the other.  They just needed to trust me.

I didn’t realize I would be the one to suffer the most.  I couldn’t foresee the debilitating depression and crippling self-doubt that were a result of my high-intensity, high-stress, entry level job.  How was I supposed to know I’d have a sociopath for a coworker?  How was I supposed to know that the economy would collapse and all that perceived opportunity would evaporate and leave me stuck in career hell?  How was I supposed to know that my love for home would take over from my apocalyptic escapist fantasies and somehow that route would open up and we’d end up moving back?

Hindsight, as they say, is a bitch.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda.  But as I frequently say: I have few regrets in life.  From where I stand now, as hard as the past decade has been, I wouldn’t be the person I am today—the day before my 44th birthday—if I hadn’t traveled that road in life. 

It was a cold and lonely drive across middle America.  Snow flew.  The sky was gray and dimmed my mood.  But I knew I’d see mountains in less than forty-eight hours so I pushed my laden car as fast as it would go into the North American Headwind.  I saw dawn in a different timezone than I woke in.  I made a quick side trip to Rock City, Kansas though it was far too cold to boulder.  That night I slept in a Motel 6 in Blue Springs, Missery. 

Somewhere in Missery

I woke up with a drift of snow that had blown in under the door.  But I was excited.  I had plans to swing by Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas, and I’d be landing in Denver.  Somehow I had to make it all work, find a place to stay, find my new place of employ, and establish a beachhead to later bring the rest of the family out. 

I pushed on west.  I reached the metro area during the afternoon rush, a blinding snowstorm, and as the sun set on my 34th birthday.  That Motel 6 sign glowed blue in the fading gray light along the interstate and I dove into the only refuge I could imagine at the time.  It was early, but I crashed, and slept the sleep of the dead having pushed for about twenty-two hours alone in the car over two days.  The next day dawned bright but still cold and I set to finding a more permanent place to sleep for the coming months.

I think about this whole adventure often.  I don’t dwell on the past like someone with loads of regret.  I analyze.  I try to understand.  I delve for insight into who I am and who I was so I can be ready for who I’m going to become. 

Standing where I am, on the high point of the present, overlooking the past it’s so surreal to be able to see it all laid out beneath my feet.  It’s even more surreal to be at this overlook while also being back in the place I left to get there, the place where I dreamed so hard about getting out and finding adventure and perspective and experience, back to the place I thought was so small, and confining, and devoid of those things.  One thing the journey taught me is the things I want in life exist pretty much wherever I am.  That’s because it’s not things I want.

Maybe I didn’t realize it when I was ten years younger, but what I was always looking for was contentment, and by looking for it everywhere except the place where I stood at the moment I was preventing myself from being able to find it. 

My whole life I have known this is possible, I was taught it from an early age:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

That's something I've struggled with my whole life.  How could I be content when there were things I needed and things I wanted that I didn’t possess?  How could I be content when I am driven by wanderlust but chained to a job, and obligations, and expectations?  I don’t know that I’m prepared to answer those questions.  I will say I think what has given me the clarity to finally see a way to contentment is that perspective I’ve collected with mad abandon.  Experience, knowledge, but more importantly the mirror of social interaction has brought me to some mighty fine green pastures to lie down in. 

I also realize contentment is not a solid thing like those mountains I love so much, but more like a sunny day.  You have to drop everything and enjoy it while it lasts.  And even then, you can learn to enjoy the cloudy and cold and snowy days.  You can wake up and see a drift of snow under your motel room door and smile, knowing that it’s all part of a grand adventure that’s worthy of pursuing.

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