Twenty-four hours ago I was shifting gears in a borrowed car on snow-covered dirt roads, passing rural Vermont farmhouses and stone walls—the kind that Robert Frost wrote about. Carefully watching for deer, I turned up bon iver’s holocene, and mentally left the party where I had gone upstairs to lie down for a few minutes, and almost an hour later, rose from my nap and realized I had missed much of the action, that I had slipped away into the same loneliness I had traveled miles and miles that afternoon to escape.
In the past, I would cringe whenever I heard someone use the phrase, “I had a long talk with myself.” Last night, during the long drive home, I had a long talk with myself.
I turned left onto Interstate 89, and headed north, leaving behind all pretenses or judgments. I sped across the White River, where I had made the same trip from Ithaca to Plainfield in grad school, where I recently attended a conference, and my own graduate adviser of two semesters didn’t even remember my name. Last night, I felt less invisible and more accepting of what someone would later call, “releasing the need to fill a void with a relationship.”
“When we can finally love that person, and still be okay knowing that the person will also die one day,” she said, “that’s when a relationship is no longer a projection, or a way for some of us to avoid facing our demons.”
Last night I faced the reality that some day I will die. That even if I have someone who will fall asleep on a farmhouse couch with me, or touch my knee with a subtle gesture as we talk to the couple from two towns over, I will still die alone. Nothing is more solitary than one’s own mortality, despite the fact that it’s the one thing we all have in common.
When I arrived earlier in the day, the sun had not begun to set, so I took a walk with a young couple and the father of a son who recently got engaged to be married. The family dogs led the way to a cemetery at the top of a hill.
“This is where I go to remind myself of my mortality, lest I forget it,” the father said to us.
The couple looked toward the western sky and down at the gravestones. I looked up at him, his profile honoring a genuine smile, and I thought of my father—whose ashes cover a similarly rural ground thousands of miles south of the cemetery where I now stood shivering in the waning light of an ordinary December afternoon.
I was not sorry that my father had died, or that I would die one day, or even that I might tread through this world without someone by my side. I faced death like a bride. I faced the void of someone to love unconditionally like a prophet.
Like following the religion I have purposefully chosen, and that has chosen me in many ways, I faced myself in the rear view window, and headed home, alone, watching the road ahead.
Halfway to Burlington, I told myself, finally, that this could be it. What if there were nothing more than shifting gears in an ex-lover’s, and now ex-friend’s car on a rural road in Vermont? What if there’s no one out there for me? What if it’s just some story we make up to soothe ourselves and avoid facing ourselves in the mirror? Or what if I’ve just missed my opportunity, or what if I haven’t? What if it’s right now? What if this is my moment, and this, my story?
Or, that short of putting too much emphasis on Karma or submitting to past behaviors, what if, perhaps, for whatever reason, I’m just not meant to be with my person, or people? What if all I have is right now, the experience of punching the keys that make these letters, and words, and sentences, and that my path is the one right under my fingers, feet and tires, and not the incredible distance that lies before me?
The very obstacles that arise to block my way home serve to show me the face of my own enslavement. Looking into that face I will know where my work lies. The face of resistance always wears a mask. It masquerades as the truth. My work is in unmasking resistance and freeing myself from its compelling power so that as I stand at the crossroads of this moment, I can choose my path in conscious, loving clarity.
—Rabbi Shefa Gold
Perhaps my work is not to unmask the obstacles keeping me from my truth, but rather, accepting the obstacles as the truth. To keep asking the question, even as I’m answering it for myself.
Last night, I could see for miles and miles, and miles.