The Courage to Start Over

Two characters in the book I am reading are talking about why they moved to that particular small town. One was born there, moved away, then returned for as yet undisclosed reasons. The other said she just wanted to start over. The first woman said, “I think it’s admirable. A lot of people don’t have the courage to do something like that.”

Is it true? Does it take courage to move to a new place to start over? Or is it that sometimes we’ve lost so much there’s nothing to lose by doing so?

I know several widows who moved out of their homes, and then took off, looking for a place to settle. A couple of them bought RVs, traveled across country, and eventually found a place they liked well enough to stay. Others just . . . wandered. It might have taken courage, but I have a hunch it was simply easier than staying and living with the memories and the ghosts of things past. Some people who are left behind do stay in their once-shared home and that, perhaps, takes more courage than heading out to look for a new place.

In my case, after Jeff died, I moved to a different state to take care of my father, and when he too died, I wandered. In between road trips, I’d rent rooms in people’s houses. Then three years ago, I bought a house sight unseen (though I had seen photos), in an area I’d only driven through once. At the time, I knew no one in town, though I promptly rectified that little matter. Did any of this take courage? Not particularly. Does it take courage for a stone that was catapulted into the air to land somewhere? No. It’s just the way things are. It’s the same thing when you are catapulted out of your life — you eventually have to land somewhere. It’s just the way things are.

Come to think of it, that’s not the only time I went looking for a new place to live, though the other times were with Jeff. We were fed up with the growth of Denver and the attendant problems like crime and pollution. We were also without work. So we just took off with no destination in mind. I don’t think that took courage; it was an adventure, and to be honest, once we left everything behind, it was the freest I ever felt in my entire life. The problem with such an irrevocable act is that eventually you have to find a place to live, and that search destroys the feeling of freedom.

It’s a good thing this place is working out for me because I don’t have another move left in me.

But I am getting off the theme of “courage.” Although I have done many things people say take courage — such as dealing with grief, my solo road trips, buying my first house so late in life — I didn’t particularly feel courageous. I did endure, however, and I did persevere despite having lost so much, and I tend to think that counts more than mere courage.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Space Filler

This is one of those write-anything-so-you-can-say-you-wrote-something posts. I had an unexpected day off, so I accompanied a couple of friends who had appointments in a not-so-nearby city (the first time I’ve been in a major city in many years). I didn’t do much but fill space as I sat in the car and stared out the window watching the world go by, but it was nice to spend a day with these people, especially since it might be a year before I see one of them again. (He’s heading back to Thailand to be with his sick wife, and once again I will be looking after his house for him.)

As pleasant as the day was, it didn’t save me much time to write a real blogpost instead of a space filler. In the grand scheme of life, I don’t suppose it matters if I skip a day now and again, but today is the 914th day of a daily blogging streak, and I hate to quit when I am so close to 1,000 days. (Close? Sheesh. I still have almost three months to go!)

The funny thing about this trip is that both my sisters (who live on the west coast) were in that very city just a couple of days ago. I couldn’t get to Denver to visit them — not only was there a major snowstorm moving through Colorado, but my brakes, which have been working fine, decided to go squishy on me. (Because there hasn’t been a problem, I haven’t been reminding the mechanic to order a brake cylinder with the proper clocking to fit my car, so yesterday I stopped by to tell him about the brakes.) Because of The Bob, and because I am not fully vaccinated, my sisters’ immune-compromised friends didn’t want them to visit me, so I wouldn’t have been able to see them even if there weren’t a snowstorm and even if my brakes did work, which is okay. I’ve been leery of being around travelers anyway, because a person is only as healthy as the last person they sat next to.

Tomorrow should be a more leisurely day for writing, so I’ll fill you in on my trip. Meantime, here is a photo of what I saw when I was staring out the window of the moving car.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Dream Come True or Nightmare

Before I bought this house, before I even considered the possibility of buying a house, I’d planned one last epic adventure with what was left of my savings. I was going to go on a year-long road trip, camping out at the various national parks, staying as long as I could at each (two weeks, generally) before moving on to the next one. I’d planned to go south for the winter, north for the summer, and I thought I could stay in motels or with friends when I got tired of being out in the weather.

After my homeless brother died, the idea of having a home of my own grew on me, and when I discovered how inexpensive old houses were in some rural areas, I decided to buy a house instead of taking that trip.

As it turns out, it was an immensely fortunate decision. Not only do I love my house and love owning the house (which surprised me because I never wanted such a responsibility), buying the place saved me from a ghastly experience.

I would have been on the trip this year, dealing not only with some of the worst winter weather in a while, but also park and motel closures, friends in quarantine, and riots. Oh, my! That would have been an epic adventure for sure, though more of a nightmare than a dream come true. I can’t even imagine the horror of such a trip.

Even though the events of this year do impinge on my life somewhat, it’s not really a problem. Oh, I’ve garnered insults and such with some of my writings that attempted to make sense of both The Bob and the riots, and I feel the restlessness of the world (or maybe just my own), but basically, since I’m alone in my snug little house, life has been good.

I’ll probably never be able see those national parks now, especially the iconic ones that everyone should see like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone (the garage ate up any remaining travel funds), but I have the opportunity to make a park of sorts in my own back yard. It might not be as majestic or panoramic or awesome as some of the national parks, but it will be mine. Even if I don’t do anything special with the yard, owning the property and creating a home for myself is an epic adventure of a different kind, more of a dream come true than the nightmare I always thought it would be.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Comforting Strangers

When I drove to Seattle last year, I unexpectedly found myself turning into a rest stop. I worry (unnecessarily, perhaps) about my car not starting up if I stop along the road, so I never visit rest areas when I drive. Although my Bug is reliable, it’s . . . not new. I figure it’s better to wait until the next fuel station in case there is a problem. But something seemed to pull me into that rest stop. I walked aimlessly around for a bit, not sure what I’d expected to find, and then returned to my car. When I got back to the parking lot, a big wind came up, and the door of the car next to mine flew open and dented and scraped the paint on the fender of my newly restored Bug. An old lady sat there, just staring at me, as if I were the one in the wrong. “It was the wind,” she said. And it probably was since she seemed too frail to have held the door, but I wanted more of an acknowledgement of the damage than that.

A younger woman came, entered the old woman’s car, and started it. I stood behind their vehicle so they couldn’t drive away. I’m not sure what I wanted, but I wanted . . . something. Soon the younger woman got out of the car and told her mother was sorry, that their insurance would pay for it. The old woman started to cry, which made me feel bad for being so stubborn about the situation. I told her it is was okay, that I didn’t expect them to pay for the damage. Then younger woman explained that the tears weren’t just about my car, but that her father (the old woman’s husband) had just died, and she was trying to give her mother a little vacation.

Oh, my, that broke my heart. I hugged both women, comforted them, and then, before I drove away, I told the daughter that her mother would mourn a lot longer than she would, and please be patient with her. I cautioned her not tell her mother to move on or get over it. She thanked me. I hugged both women again, refused to take their insurance information, and said that every time I saw the dent, I’d think of them. And I do.

I often think about these women, and not only when I see the dent. I’ve never known what to make of this incident. I’m not a big believer in fate, but it makes me wonder if sometimes things happen to benefit not us, but someone else. Maybe fate needed me to be there. Or maybe the woman’s grief called to me.

I don’t have the answer, but I still have the dent.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Life in the Slow Lane

The gas guage in my car still works, which is a bit of a surprise considering that both the speedometer and odometer have died, and they are all part of the same mechanism. I am already gauging gas consumption by mileage, and have been adopting a policy of keeping the tank topped off in case the gauge fails, too.

Oddly, having neither a speedometer or an odometer makes no real difference. I can keep track of mileage via sign or Google, and I have a good ear for how fast I am driving by engine sounds. Since my ancient VW hasn’t the power of more modern vehicles, I can’t keep up with interstate travel anyway. I drive in the slow lane and take things as they come. I was a bit worried about driving on two lane highways without being able to track my speed, but it was the same as always — I drove at whatever speed felt safest, especially around curves, so I was still slower than most drivers. If there were too many impatient drivers behind me, I pulled off to let them pass, and then continued my life in the slow lane.

Yesterday was a fabulous day. The car drove like a dream — well, maybe not. Let’s say it drove like a well-tuned and cared for Beetle, which of course it is.

But then, I wasn’t really driving — according to my car instruments, I went zero miles at zero miles per hour. Since I somehow ended up in Oregon last night, I can only assume that while I sat back, taking it easy, going 0mph, the world kept spinning beneath my wheels. The earth must have done a lot stuttering or backtracking during all those hours, because I ended up crossing the Sacramento River at least five times.

But that’s not the only river I crossed or the only body of water. I also saw lagoons, creeks, lakes, ponds, and an ocean. Wildflowers decorated the side of the road: sunrise-colored poppies, cheerful daisies, languid wisteria, chartreuse fields, spots of pink and purple and fuchsia blossoms. I went from desert heat to coastal chill, moving through agricultural areas, towns, cities, forests, mountains.

It’s hard to pick out the best thing I saw as the world passed by outside my window, but at the very top of the list was the small herd of elk crossing at an elk crossing sign.

Ah, life is good in the slow lane.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, 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.”)

The Best Laid Plans

Plans gang aft agley, but it’s hard not to feel silly after one has posted one’s plans online, and then have those plans come to naught. All these months, I’ve been talking about the big road-camping-hiking-backpacking trip I’ve planned for May, and then zap! I caught a cold. A bad one.

I haven’t accomplished much of anything the past week— the book remains unfinished, the trip preparations have come to a halt, and trail foods never got fixed. (I haven’t even been blogging — didn’t want you to catch my cold.)

I still hope to be well enough to leave Wednesday as planned, but I even if I have stopped coughing by then, I might be too weak. If I left a few days later, driving mostly straight through and staying at motels instead of campgrounds, I’d still be able to visit the people I’d planned to visit (keeping my fingers crossed!) but I would have to forego some of the sights I wanted to see and the activities I’d hoped to experience.

But you never know. Everything could go as planned. And if not, well, I still have my trip book — the binder I’ve filled with maps and directions and descriptions of parks and places along the way — so I can take the trip another time.

It’s interesting (to me, anyway), the difference in my thinking when I am feeling well and when I am not. When I am well, I feel as if I can work toward impossible dreams and maybe even accomplish them. When I am weakened by illness (or by coughing fits), I feel as if even the possible would be impossible.

But thinking doesn’t change reality, even though people say it does. If you don’t think you can do something, you can still try to prove yourself wrong and end up accomplishing what you think you could not do. If you think you can do something, you can rely too much on the belief and do nothing to make it happen, you can fail to accomplish what you thought you could.

Whatever happens next week — and next month — I’ll continue working toward the goal of an eventual epic backpacking trip. That doesn’t necessarily mean I will take the trip because as we all know, plans don’t mean a whole lot if things change and you can’t implement them, but still, it’s the work that counts.

For now, I need to work on getting better.

Hope you all are doing okay.

***

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.

An Opportunity to Escape

This morning, it suddenly seemed absurd my researching narcissism and obsessing about one extremely unimportant individual in my life, and I had to laugh. Not that narcissism is absurd — the personality disorder has ruined many lives — but I have more important things to obsess about, such as my upcoming trip to visit my sisters. (One sister invited us other two to visit her around Mother’s Day to make chocolate-covered pecan and caramel turtles in honor of our mother.)  Now that is something worth obsessing about!

It’s entirely possible this narcissism thing could be a way of distracting me from the impending visit and the very real problems that could arise. Not that I am expecting problems, as such, but the truth is, my two sisters and I have never been alone together, and I mean never. We’ve all been together with other family members. We’ve each of us been alone with one other sister, but never in memory have just the three of us done anything together, possibly because we are so far apart in age. If I really thought there would be more than a little discomfort I would opt out, but I think, despite us three being almost opposites (visualize a unilateral triangle), we are mature enough — or old enough — to manage a weekend together.

Still, I am driving up to Seattle instead of flying to give me the opportunity to escape if need be. Or perhaps I’m driving because I need an excuse for an adventure, a reason to run away from my problems. Oh, who cares why I am driving. I want to. It’s as simple as that.

I am planning to take a couple of weeks to get there, which will allow me to visit friends along the way, to visit a few national parks and monuments and wilderness areas, and to do some camping and hiking and perhaps see some wildflowers.

Just the thought of being in the open feels like a breath of fresh air on my soul. I hope the reality is the same. (I must admit I have a few reservations about my arm, but one way or another, I manage to do what is necessary, so I’m sure I will be able to continue doing so.)

I’d more or less considered not coming back to the desert at all, just continuing to travel, but since I promised to be back for a dance performance, I’m paying my room rent to give me a place to return to.

I really don’t want to spend another summer in the desert — it’s impossible to do much walking, not even in the early morning, and I would like to continue my backpack practice in preparation for a long hike. On the other hand, I don’t really want to be on the road when other people are out in force, and besides, it’s hot almost everywhere in the summer. Maybe not as hot as here, but still hot.

But that is a decision for another time.

Today the only decision I have to make is what national park land to research, what maps to print out. I wish I could be totally spontaneous, and just go without any sort of plans, but my idea of spontaneity is to drive. And drive. And keep on driving. That kind of driving becomes almost a zen-like experience, because as soon as a thought passes through your mind, you’ve left it behind, but it doesn’t satisfy my need for adventure.

So, I’ll close this post and go open my atlas and see where it will take me.

Wishing us all the best of adventures!

***

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.

 

Adventurous vs. Disastrous

I find it strange that I like camping. I have always been a reader, not a doer, and I have always preferred being comfortable. Despite all the improvements in camping equipment, camping is not often comfortable. In fact, it can be downright miserable when you factor in adverse weather, inconsiderate neighbors, and insects. My last foray into camping included such unpleasantness as lawn mowing operations, interminably screaming children, aggressive dogs, and even more aggressive spiders. (They happened to find two places I missed with the insect repellent — jawline and knee — and one place I never even thought of putting it, the top of my head that’s still healing from my tumble down the stairs. ) I suppose the bites could be from my old nemesis, mosquitoes, but the ping-pong-ball-size swellings indicate otherwise.

And yet, with all that, I came away from that last night in Kansas at Meade State Park with a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling of being soul-fed.

Even the horrendous day of driving afterward seemed more adventuresome than disastrous. After all, if I had wanted to zoom across the country problem-free, I would not be driving a forty-four-year-old VW bug.

Heat, hills, head winds were too much for my air-cooled engine. It vapor-locked on me, once when I was driving, and once after I stopped for gas. (I had to push it into a parking space and wait until the engine cooled.) To be fair, the fault lies not with my poor old car but with modern gas and its low burn point.

As I sat in there in the blistering heat, looking around unsuccessfully for a bit of shade, I couldn’t help thinking how nice a bit of rain would be. As if on cue, the wind blew in a few clouds to offer me and my vehicle shade, and after we were back on the road, rain came. Not a lot, just enough to take the burn out of the over-heated air. And so I was able to continue my journey for a while longer. Actually, a lot longer. Five states worth. The only state I drove all the way across that day was New Mexico, but I started in Kansas, caught the corners of Oklahoma snd Texas, and stopped for the night just over the Arizona border. I wimped out and stayed at a motel. The bug bites worried me, and I didn’t want to risk more bites. Nor did I want to have to worry about my car not starting if I were in the wilds. Actually, it probably wouldn’t have been in the middle of a wilderness area but in a state park, which brings me to my final excuse for staying in a motel. Although I never felt unsafe in a national park, staying in a state park made me feel vulnerable. It was too close to civilization and access was too easy for anyone out looking for mischief.

I’d better get going while it is still a bit cool out. See you on down the road.

***

(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.”)

***

Unwitting Angel

All along the way of my as yet unfinished cross-country journey, I have been blessed by various angels in human — and electronic — form. These angels have given me shelter in bad weather, brought me companionship in loneliness, taught me cosmic and earthly lessons, gifted me with books, taken me to wondrous events. And sometimes have steered me to safety.

When I left St. Ansgar after my stint of playing innkeeper, I’d planned to take US 63 straight south to have lunch with a friend in Rolla, Missouri. I turned on Google maps to help me get through Waterloo, Iowa, and for some reason, the app sent me on a huge loop around US 63 almost to the Illinois border. As I approached a snarl of highway intersections I needed help navigating, Google maps decided to quit. Fearing I would get hopelessly lost on my own, I took the nearest exit off the highway so I could reset the app. I pulled into a gas station, did my little chores, but could not drive away — the accelerator pedal, which had been sluggish, became rusted into immobility. (Although the bug has been partly restored — paint job, new seat covers, rebuilt engine and transmission — it is still a forty-four-year-old vehicle, with the crotchets and creakings of the elderly. The bug has spent most of its life in dry climes, and doesn’t quite know what to do about the great humidity it has encountered recently except to quietly succumb to rust in inconvenient spots.)

I played around with the pedal and the throttle. Discovered that the throttle was fine — the culprit was the hinge on the pedal itself. Unfortunately, the gas station store was out of 4D40. I explained my predicament and, taking pity on me, the manager rummaged in the back room for some sort of lubricant. When she didn’t find anything suitable, she went to a store shelf, grabbed a bottle of Dawn, told me to pour a few drops of the detergent on the hinge, and bring the bottle back. So I did. The pedal immediately loosened, and I continued my journey, wondering about the incident. Would things have worked out the same if I had taken the route I’d planned? Had Google purposely taken me to safety or was it simply coincidence? Google ex machina or a strange sort of luck?

And now another angel is coming to my aid. I’d purchased an external battery to use for enmergency phone recharges since my ancient car has no cigarette lighter or other electrical source to charge modern devices, and after a few uses the battery stopped working. I notified the company, and they volunteered to send me a new one. I gave them the address of a woman in Kansas (another online-now-offline friend) who had invited me to visit. I thought the package would arrive within the week of my visit and I would be able to head out before I became too much of a stink. (Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin who said fish and visitors stink after three days?) What I didn’t know was that the battery pack was coming via Royal Mail. Still, it got to Chicago in just a few days but sat around untended for even more days. (It will take longer to get from Chicago to Kansas than from England to Chicago.) My friend has graciously agreed to let me stay here until the package arrives, though I am sure she would be just as glad to see me on my way. Still . . . there is a major heat wave extending all along my proposed route. And my being here a few more days will — I hope — allow me to travel in less dangerous weather.

Who knew I would find an unwitting and unintentional angel in Kansas?

Ah, I am blessed.

Of course, no one has asked my various angels if they wish to be cast in such a role, but so far they have allowed themselves to be swept up in the energy of my journey.

Yep. Truly blessed.

***

(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.”)

Virginia is for Lovers

The Virginia state slogan is “Virginia is for lovers.” I can’t vouch for the veracity of that, but I do know US 23 through Virginia is perhaps the loveliest stretch of road I have been on during the 8,000 miles I have traveled so far. Of course, it’s entirely possible the route was colored by my relief at having escaped a rather chilling southern gothic episode (see previous post), but still, by any reckoning, it was a lovely drive. The only thing more beautiful would be that same drive in the fall.

Often during this long journey I have passed by a special sight or site that had to go unsung because there was no place to pull off to make a mental or photographic note. The blaze of sunset-orange poppies on a verge in North Carolina. A swathe of goldenrod in Tennessee. A median filled with daisies in Virginia. A hillside in Kentucky purpled with mountain laurel. A road lined with dogwood in Ohio. A fuchsia-colored field in Indiana.

But luckily, there was a turn-out at a postcard-perfect view on that Virginia highway. I stood there at the overlook mesmerized by the scene that lay at my feet, by the lushness that surrounded me.

On a journey of this magnitude, where each turn of the road brings a new view, individual sights get lost in the collage of miles. I don’t know if it will ever be possible to comprehend everything that has happened, everything I have seen in the past few months, but there in Virginia, for just a little while, it all made sense.

***

(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.”)

***