Letting Go

I spent most of yesterday sorting out a few boxes in my storage unit. I have no idea why, but I woke with the feeling that I needed to start getting rid of more of my stuff. I got rid of half of everything Jeff and I owned when I left our home, and a third of what was left when I left my father’s house, but I still have way too much stuff for someone who is somewhat of a nomad, moving from one temporary place to another.

Although I hadn’t intended to, hadn’t even remembered I still had them, I ended up tossing out my grief journals and the letters I wrote to Jeff those first years after his death. I’m sure there was much wisdom in those pages, but there was also too much sorrow and too many tears. No one needs to keep that sort of grief-laden memorabilia. And anyway, if ever I am interested in my thoughts back then, I have hundreds of blog posts and of course, my book Grief: The Great Yearning.

It’s odd, but I don’t feel anything — neither relief that the sorrow is thrown away nor regret that I got rid of the journals. I suppose that means I chose the right time to let them go.

I still have Jeff’s ashes, but it’s getting close to time to get rid of those, too. It might be nice to take them with me on my May trip, and sprinkle tiny amounts in all the places I know he’d love. (Shh. Don’t tell. It’s illegal to dump human remains without a permit, but a teaspoonful here and a smidgeon there spread over hundreds of miles shouldn’t upset the ecology of any area.) Still, the trip is still months away, and anything can happen before I have to decide.

I also threw away the handwritten versions of my books (the first four were completely written by hand, and even parts of the more recently published books were handwritten). I’d been saving them for . . . I don’t know . . . posterity, maybe. But posterity has passed me by, and so far I haven’t needed them to prove my claim that I wrote the books, so it was time to let them go, too.

Some things I did not throw away, such as the binder filled with maps and information about places I’d planned to visit on my cross-country trip two years ago. The most astonishing fact about those pages is that so many were about long-distance hiking trails, including maps. I vaguely remember planning to hike and backpack in the various national lands along the way, figuring that when I hit North Carolina, I’d be ready to hike part of the Mountain to Sea trail. Unfortunately, by the time I got to North Carolina, I could barely walk up stairs. (I’d wrenched my hip in ballet class before I left, and the hiking I did in the beginning and all that driving only made things worse. I’ve been doing piriformis muscle stretches ever since, and maybe this next adventure, though shorter, might be more active.)

One piece of torn paper that I tossed in the trash yesterday while working was picked up by the wind, and so I went dashing after it. (Although I might not have a problem with littering the wilderness with Jeff’s ashes, any other sort of littering is anathema to me.) I have that dusty, wrinkled bit by my side as I type this blog. It was a quote I’d found and jotted down with pencil:

“Let go, trust and just take the first step. The pathway will unfold before you.” That advice comes from The Peace Pilgrim, a 44-year-old woman who set out to walk for peace carrying only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map, trusting to those she met to supply what she needed, though she never asked for anything. I wish I had her trust, her courage, her zeal. Could I ever just head out on foot with nothing and wait to see what happens?

It’s one thing to let go of possessions that no longer have value, but another thing to just . . . let go.

But maybe . . .

Someday . . .

Meantime, most of my stuff still needs to be sorted, and more gotten rid of. Do you notice I’m using the passive voice? That’s because I don’t want to have to face the reality of who is going to have to do all that work.

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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.