Stardust of Reality

I’ve been going through an upsurge of unbelonging lately. I first experienced this unbelonging after Jeff died, when I lost the feeling of belonging to someone, to a place, to life itself. This needing to feel as if I belong somewhere is one of the main reasons I’ve focused for so many years on the dream of an epic walk/hike — I hoped such a trek would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way. And I needed something bigger than me in my life.

Couplehood is bigger than either of the partners, and when we lose that connection, not only are we set adrift in an alien world, we are set adrift in a life that suddenly seems so much smaller than it was. Grief’s immensity gives an illusion of connection to our deceased life partner, but as grief wanes, the unbelonging becomes even more apparent.

Hence, my need for the dream of an epic walk. Now that I have whittled that dream into something I can handle — just a few miles — it is no longer bigger than my life. (Going from “impossible” to a couple of days on the trail was an incredible step, but it is still 2,645 miles short of the dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

I didn’t mind when I just had the dream of thru-hiking the PCTrather than the reality, because that way, I never had to think about what came next. But now I know — life as usual. That’s what comes when the dream ends.

And so here I am. Once again, feeling unbelonged.

Someday I hope to get strong enough do a longer backpacking trip, but for now, I have other things I need to concentrate on, such as my new book about grief.

I’m still at the preliminary stage, which means I’m thinking about the book and trying to arrange it in my head. I’ve also been going through blogs and emails, looking for topics to include in the book. As I was going through emails from a woman who encouraged me in my grief journey, who kept me focused on the need to grieve rather than to hide from the pain (and made me see that my grief posts were neither whiny nor self-indulgent but necessary for me and for my readers), I came across the following comment:

“You belong, my friend, simply because you are part of the stardust of reality!”

sky space dark galaxy

I love that — “stardust of reality.” It’s something to keep in mind as I navigate this post-dream stage of my life.

And who knows, maybe I’m setting myself up for a new dream, a new reality.

Last night I got a text from my sister that included a screenshot of comments on my blog where people mentioned how adventurous I was. She said, “Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees you as an adventurist.”

I responded, “Apparently, I am the only one who thinks I am a bit of a fraud. But I tell a good story.”

She texted back, “We—all of us—think on some level we are frauds. No joke.”

Later, much later, I realized that when it comes to writing, I don’t feel like a fraud.

That should tell me something about where to look for belonging.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Deep in the Dismals

Several people have contacted me, wondering if I were okay since it’s been a week since I last posted.

Yes, I am okay, or as okay as one can be with more than fifty mosquito bites and a particular sensitivity to the horrific little creatures. I have tried every salve on the market and every home remedy. So far, nothing works to stop the itching, so I just have to grit my teeth and try not to scratch.

I’d been staying with friends during much of that missing week, mostly catching up on the volunteer work I do with my publisher. It’s hard for me to write or even think when I am with others, and besides I wanted to make the most of what I thought would be the final visit of my journey. Since I don’t know anyone along the I-40 corridor, I figured I would be on my own most of the time during my return trip.

When I left my friends, and to be honest, even before I left, I was beset by sorrow for no reason I can fathom other than that I would be returning without having found what I was looking for. (My visit to the East Dismal Swamp seemed a fitting place to have such an attitude, though a little hike on the wooden walkway temporarily dampened my personal dismals.)

People had told me of a sign outside Wilmington, North Carolina, where I-40 begins. The sign gave the mileage to Barstow where the highway ends (and not far from where I had been hanging out) so I went in search of the elusive sign. I found the beginning of I-40 with no problem, but didn’t see the sign. Unlike most highways I am familiar with, in the east, often there is no on ramp corresponding to the off ramp, so there is no easy way to get back on the highway. Sometimes following signs that were supposed to get me back on, led me far from my destination, which made circling back to look for the sign a tiring task. I finally gave up and headed north on East I-40, but the next day I went back and tried again to find the sign. I even stopped at the nearest gas station, but no one I asked about the sign had ever seen it. I finally realized the sign must have been removed.

That little episode (four hours of circling back on the labyrinth of highways) seems a metaphor for this journey: driving endless miles only to find that I am searching for something that isn’t there.

Don’t you have to know what you are looking for, though? I don’t know what I am looking for, so perhaps I did find it after all, and just don’t know it yet. I had been looking for adventure, and that I have found, even if all the adventures weren’t felicitous.

When staying with my friends, I tagged along to dinner at a restaurant. One guy asked about my trip, and after I told him a few of my more memorable experiences, he asked, “Was there anything you did like?” I was speechless for a moment. Do all experiences have to be likable to have meaning? Part of my desire for this trip was a need to pit myself against the world (and embrace it), to find inner resources and a deeper sense of belonging. (A reason for my sadness, I am sure, comes from the feeling of unbelonging I get when I stay with others, especially couples. No matter how kind they are to me, no matter how much they want me, no matter how at home they make me feel, I have an awareness of being in someone else’s orbit, of encroaching on their space.)

I have to count both my allergies and these mosquito bites as experiences that I didn’t like, but they came as collateral damage to things I did like, such as camping on the outer banks. (The furthest stretch of this journey was down to Cape Hatteras where I got all the bites — I used repellant on my exposed skin but didn’t think to spray my clothes. All the bites were in unexposed areas.)

I have much to ponder in the coming weeks, such as where to go next and what to do with my life, but as long as I can see to the next curve in the road, I will be fine.

I hope you didn’t waste too much worry on me, but thank you for caring.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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All these photos were taken in or by the East Dismal Swamp. The lake is Lake Phelps, the second largest lake in North Carolina.