I don’t yet know how I’ll ultimately view the year 2016, but I do feel pretty confident it will leave a lasting impact on my life. This year has smacked me around, knocked me on my ass, picked me up and poured medicine on the wounds, then clocked me again. It has probably been the most tumultuous year of my existence–so much has been crammed into this one year. I thought I was out of the woods on it. I thought the storm season was over and it was time to go back to building.
Mid-way through the week, this post was shaping up to be my thoughts on the Presidential Election and it’s aftermath. I was processing how I wanted to come to this, how to sum up the surprise. How I wanted to address all my friends who are most scared by a Trump Presidency and my friends who are ecstatic over it. I mulled over what I thought this meant, and where to see the light in this.
We all woke up in an election hangover, I think, regardless of which side we were on. It felt like we were stepping into a different world. I was thoroughly reminded by the outcome of how divided our country is right now, and how people are seeing the United States from very different angles and having no conversations about it, only stalemated arguments. I wonder what is to come from this. It is discouraging to me how wide the chasm seems between an acknowledgement that everyone is afraid, but so many people only seem interested in their own fears.
That’s what this post was shaping up to be. Then on Friday morning, upon entering the office I was told I should find Hope, that she had received some bad news. I found Hope coming out of the Wetlands Trail crying. She told me Katy was dead. It was such a shock that it felt like I had entered an alternate universe, nevermind the different world from earlier in the week. We began to walk because that’s all we could think to do. We met Allyson. I walked towards her with the heavy news, and as soon as she saw me she started to cry too, and I knew she already knew.
This year has given me lots of practice in receiving difficult, painful news. I’ve had to take it, let it punch me in the gut, then turn around and deliver it. Then, I work to make some sense out of it, to search for how to respond. To look for the light. But, there didn’t seem to be any light in this. The light in this story was Katy, and her light was out. It felt like some kind of bomb had exploded and it’s shock waves were spreading in every direction knocking down everything in the way. It feels like I’ve been in the way too much lately.
Steven posted a song from the Roots, “Dear God 2.0.” It summed up pretty perfectly what I was feeling in those moments.
I tried to work that afternoon, and I got some work done, but I was definitely not firing on all cylinders. As I tried to get budget numbers and summer camp fees right, I felt myself tearing up, hearing the music, thinking of messages I’d sent and received, running through pictures of Katy in my mind.
She came to visit in April. I mentioned the visit in a few paragraphs on the blog. We hiked, went to the Pelican, and put her and her friend Lindsay up for the night. It was like old times. Now it seems like such a gift for us to have seen her so recently. I’ve thought about that visit so much in the past few days. I’ve gone back over how the four of us and Digby climbed Neahkahnie together. How the sun was bright and warm. How we sat on the rocks at the summit for some time looking out over the ocean. I think of how the conversations we had seemed to have picked up right where we left off years ago.
I can feel that numbness coming back that I experienced in the summer. That self-defense that’s there to shield you a little. I went through a few days with this perpetual sick feeling in my stomach. We visited Lindsay in Portland, and even though it was only the second time we’d ever seen her, it felt like visiting an old friend. We talked a lot about Katy and shared stories that pieced her together a little more in both our minds. We ran in different circles, so we knew different parts of her life. These talks are therapeutic. Without these stories my thoughts go too frequently to the pain she felt towards the end, only to those moments that bring so much grief. These memories bring balance to her story.
I went to church at Bay City UMC Sunday morning. Several prominent church members had had some devastating loses of their own, there was a Veteran’s Day litany, oh and there was also the election to address. As we sang certain hymns, I noticed Danielle sobbing behind the pulpit, and I felt myself crying too. I knew she had lost someone too, and I could feel the pain there between both of us. I felt this binding together, this recognition amongst each other, even though we didn’t know the whole story for anyone there. I did not mention Katy during the prayers of the people. I felt my heart beat faster as they asked people to share. I felt too weak to explain it.
On my way home, I opted to take the back way, which led me onto some old logging roads that wind along the coastal mountain ridges in the state forest above Garibaldi. I had been out on these passes once before and I thought I could find my way. I did, but it was after a fair amount of trial and error and the consultation of a backcountry topographical map app on my phone. I put on The Memory Palace podcast as I explored those gravel roads in my Honda Civic Hybrid. The Memory Palace is a phenomenal short podcast that takes these little snippets from history and sets you down in them. It’s host Nate Dimeo decided this week to read all of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” a poem that takes about an hour and a half to read.
I consider Walt Whitman a patron saint, and “Song of Myself,” is right up there with holy scripture for me. I needed Whitman in that moment, and I had not realized it. There is too much of the poem that resonated with me to share in this post, and most readers would probably get pretty exhausted by it anyway. But, he hit so many points. He hits the abstract and idealistic takes of life and death, he includes the raw, concrete descriptions too. It contains multitudes.
I looked out over the mountains. There were trees old and young. I could see the Tillamook Bay and the ocean at times. Other times I could see Garibaldi and the Miami River. At times I saw from one ridge to the other, coastal mountain passes with drops hundreds of feet down. All while hearing Whitman’s masterpiece that ties together just about everything in the universe. I was in need of the universe being pulled a little tighter together.
Later that day I went for a run on the beach. The sky was a dark gray, but it made the ocean a beautiful shade of navy blue. I am living out here at the edge of a world. It is the very boundary of a great land and a great water. This is as far as I can go. Each day I can walk to the end of it and see this mysterious other world that goes on farther than my eyes will see. I feel in many ways that I have stepped to the boundaries and looked at a big expanse I know I am not meant yet to step into. I am trying to make sense of it, looking to see if there is some sign, some reassurance. In the meantime, I run alongside it, I try to keep myself strong, for there is sometimes much to carry.
As I ran at the edge of that expansive blue ocean, I listened to the final stanzas of “Leaves of Grass.”
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God
not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and
each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own
face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is
sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
This year 2016 has been relentless. It seems to have knocked many people down a few pegs. I have always been a questioner, but this year has made me weary of questions. I want life. Life for all those I love who are hurt or scared. I want life for everyone feeling pain, for the dead. I want life. To walk in the forest for hours. To reacquaint myself with the dirt and the sounds of birds. I want to reassimilate myself with life. To slow it down and taste and smell it. I want that for everyone, especially now. I could feel those urges as I ran on, letting my body take over for a time as I heard Whitman’s final lines:
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
It is maybe my greatest wish that somewhere, sometime there are many, many somewhere waiting for me. Until then, I hope until my last breath to be hiking, exploring, running, pressing against the edge of all I know, framing this idea of myself or at least who I want to be:
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,