October 19, 2015 Maine
Our 9-passenger Cessna landed safely in low cloud cover. The 90-minute flight from Boston was disappointing – offering only an occasional glimpse of the strikingly beautiful Maine coastline. As the pilot steers us towards the tiny Bar Harbor airport terminal a flood of memories from our magical snowy winter wash over me.
The yearnings are powerful and leave me wanting to call Maine my home. We are here now to heal and process our motorcycle adventure. Driving to Helen’s house – and for the weeks following – my head turns for every For Sale sign we pass. My heartstrings are being yanked left and right. The feeling is visceral.
When the idea was born for Shal and I to make this trip to Maine I was curious if I would still love this state. My crush is stronger than ever, equating her with community, natural splendor, and genuine people.
I want to move here but there are a couple important considerations – #1, Shal loves Maine too, but she wants to make the Northwest her home. #2, my two daughters live in Washington and I hate the idea of living 3,300 miles away and seeing them infrequently. Above and beyond my self-imposed motherly duties, I absolutely adore spending time with them.
There’s a house for sale fronting the bay in the neighborhood where we’re staying. On a walk with Brisa, I stroll the roads that meander through the woods as she darts in and out of the trees tracking the scent of birds and critters.
The leaves are peaking their bright reds and golds. I find myself walking up the driveway of the quite 5-acre property. Putting my hands to the glass, I peek in the windows of the empty house. It’s not my dream home by any means – it’s too big, and way out of my price range yet I fantasize that the absent owners would take a much lower price just to sell it. In this moment, the serene water views, wildlife, and privacy overshadow the colonial’s unattractive features. I sit on the porch to bask in the fantasy of my potential Home. Brisa and I would then bushwhack our way back to Helen’s through the adjoining woods – how nice it would be to be Helen’s neighbor. I went through this secret routine three times that week.
I finally muster the courage to bring Shal over to the house. I know she doesn’t want to move to Maine, but I at least want her to know how deep this desire is for me. As we approach she patiently listens as I tell her how Maine feels like Home to me and gives me all these wonderful, safe and yummy feelings. She doesn’t have the same strong feelings, but something in her face tells me that she is considering it – for a moment. I’m not looking for a decision, but hoping she feels the same way.
I’m more cautious these days when I get these coveting feelings. My heart leaps, aches even, and I Want. Do I really want to live in Maine? Is it Maine, or the feelings that Maine gives me that I want? Years of counseling have left me with useful techniques to help sort out the yearnings rather than blindly jump into something. Nothing wrong with wildly jumping at times! Its best for me to wait with the biggies, like moving or making a relationship change. Waiting gives me time to look closely at the Want and see where its coming from. Wise discernment takes practice. My impatient mind wants to satisfy temptation to get out of the discomfort of Wanting.
Last July, Shal and I were just a few weeks into our 15-month adventure when I started doubting my ability to be in this relationship long-term. We were still getting to know each other and I wasn’t sure if I could live with some of our differences. For one, Shal was experiencing a lot of pain during our hikes. Pain left over from her motorcycle accident and subsequent surgeries a few years ago. “What if she can’t hike at all in five years?” “Am I going to have to spend my time being her caregiver for the rest of our lives? I don’t know if I’m up for that.” Having never experienced chronic pain myself I couldn’t understand what she was going through. As a healthy and strong woman, I was certain that I’d be hiking well into my 80s and wanted a partner who could hang with me. No one more than Shal felt the maddening frustration at her pain. As a lifelong athlete, she could not imagine a life without hiking, backpacking, riding, snowmachining, and working out. This frustration brought her to tears with anger. And there I am, ruefully questioning if I can be with someone long-term who can’t hang with me.
Somewhere along the Cassiar Highway in Alaska, I made a phone call. I confided in my wise friend Sarah. I shared my concerns about being with someone who is often in pain. I wanted her to say, “Yeah, throw in the towel while the relationship is still new. You don’t want to deal with this for the rest of your life.” Like I said, Sarah is wise, and even truer in her friendship. Unwilling to indulge my fears in favor of my personal growth, she calmly offered, “Just wait and see. You don’t have to make a decision right now.” Even though it wasn’t the response I wanted, something about her words soothed me. Her faith impelled me a couple minutes towards grown-up patience.
Last winter, Shal committed to healing her body. She hit the gym 5-6 days a week and emerged stronger and more fit than she’d been in years. When we got back on the motorcycles in May things took a very different turn within our team of two. From the get go, I developed horrible pain on my sit bones from sitting on the bike for miles on end. It put a damper on my joy of riding. Shal was patient when I’d have to pull over to give my butt a rest. As we hit Arizona and started to ride challenging off-road terrain in the heat, the roles of the previous summer were reversed. Shal’s focus over the winter to get stronger paid off. She easily navigated gnarly terrain and patiently offered to ride my bike when I was too tired or scared. In the 5,000 + miles since we left Florida she never once spoke of pain. If she did have pain it was minor. I on the other hand had a hard time of it. A sprained knee, worsening thyroid disease, and heat intolerance left me weak and feeling like an ill alien swapped bodies with me. I dropped my bike more times than I can count – Shal did the majority of the heavy lifting. I couldn’t have gotten through those 5-months without her. I learned to loosen the grip I had on this idea of being forever able-bodied and indomitable. Life became easier when I accepted the reality of my body and my fears.
We’ve experienced the full range of each other’s strengths and challenges over the 2 years we’ve been together. Without exception, our disagreements fade when we recognize each other’s perspective and simply accept that we look at things differently. I don’t think Shal felt the frustration with me that I had felt towards her a year ago. As someone who has dealt with chronic pain she understood what I was going through and could offer genuine empathy. I get it now – you have to walk a mile in someone’s shoes to truly understand them. I’m glad I followed Sarah’s advice to wait and see.
As far as living in Maine goes, I’ll wait and see on that too. I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing, or pushing away a desire. Quite the contrary – there’s a calmness I feel in being able pause in the comfort in being OK with the yearning.