OUT EAST, BACK WEST

Welp, I am safely ensconced back in my dear Arizona home, still reeling a bit from my two-week trip to the East Coast.

INITIAL THOUGHTS:

You really can’t go home again.

My traveling days are over. (Though I think this every time I return from a trip).

Tucson is gorgeous in October.


It really was a kind of trip from hell, and not just because I fractured my patella, and I’m pretty sure sprained my ankle as well, on Day 3.

I think what I realized this trip was I have never really liked traveling! I consider it, as with much that I do, a kind of character-building enterprise. But I’m always nervous. I don’t especially like driving, even at home; never mind when I’m on the road, in a car rented from a strange airport. It’s impossible to eat right on the road. Et cetera. Not that I’m not crazy grateful to get to go ANYWHERE, but still.

One place I stayed was in this tiny village in the middle of nowhere in eastern Pennsylvania, very lovely, along the Delaware River. Well there was one commercial establishment, comprising several businesses, in the whole town and this airbnb was above, beside, and in the middle of it. After driving 3 or 4 hours that day, and knowing I had to change, brush my hair and dash out for dinner, I grasped at once that I was basically staying for two days and nights above a store. Which neither the host nor the pictures had disclosed.

Worse, a quick look around the “kitchen” (sink in bathroom, plastic utensils) revealed that the coffee situation was limited to “pods.” Pods! Naturally I had my own bag of Starbucks Verona with me, and my electric kettle, but the one thing I’d neglected to bring (and hadn’t needed till now, so hadn’t known I’d neglected) was my gold coffee-filter cone.

So I tracked the guy down outside, hobbling on my injured leg, and literally brayed, “Do you have a COFFEE MAKER!!??” And when he said No, I brayed even louder, “Well then, do you have a CONE????” LIterally like a crazed banshee. Like I even wanted or needed coffee right that minute, or obviously, ever.

That’s when I knew I’d gone a teeny bit off the rails.

The next morning I utilized a makeshift paper-towel coffee filter, then tried the pods, which weren’t even that bad. The pods were just a stand-in for living out of a suitcase, rinsing out clothes every night, ferrying around dried fruit, nuts, crackers and cheese in a plastic bag. I can’t stand eating out every meal especially because the food is inevitably overpriced AND not good.

With all that, I saw many people I love, tons of heart-wrenching East Coast “scenery,” and several fascinating late artists’ homes/studios/museums.

And minute by minute I totally enjoyed the trip! I was more or less present every minute in a way that was maybe somewhat new. “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world,” as Mother Teresa described life. Not just my sorrows, but the sorrows of the world, which I feel every more keenly.

A couple of months ago I heard a homily in which the priest spoke of the concept of muscle memory.

Part of my muscle memory embraces the hour-long walk I have taken every day for years. But I couldn’t (and still can’t) walk (at least not for an hour). So being stopped dead in my tracks has been very interesting.

I think I have always known that good health of any kind is on sufferance–it may be because I have so often given thanks for being able to walk (partly this came from being friends with a guy who was in a wheelchair) that I haven’t really minded not being able to, for a while at least. In New York, as I may have said, my room was kitty-corner from the sacristy of St. Vincent Ferrer and as I rested in bed, I became convinced that Jesus was happy to have me near him in the tabernacle and the Lord knows I was happy to be near him. That was enough. That was everything. I’d stumble down there for daily Mass and even went to Confession once.

And that was the real muscle memory: Mass, prayer, online recovery meetings. The Rosary. Even though we may feel nothing: grinding resistance, emptiness, wandering thoughts, emptiness. Even when we feel completely wrung out, the muscle memory brings us to the practices that, over time, we have incorporated into our daily routine.

I would join the monks at Portsmouth (RI) Abbey for live-streaming Vespers with Gregorian chant.

Those were the things I really looked forward to, that formed the backbone of my day, and that didn’t depend on my ability to walk.

And that allowed me to reflect that my trip-and-fall was a bit of a wakeup call. To more carefully look, in every sense of the word, where I’m going. To slow down. To commit fully to my new life here. On some level, I am always looking to hedge my bets, straddle two (at least) worlds. One foot in, one foot out.

Coming back, I flew from Newark into Phoenix (no nonstops to NYC from Tucson), then took the shuttle bus. We rolled into town around 5:30, just as dusk was falling. And the mountains, the red-gold desert light, the long, wide-open horizon–it was the first time since I moved here in May that I truly felt: I am home.

IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE! IT’S THE AFTERNOON LIGHT STREAKING THROUGH MY OFFICE.
“TRULY, GOD WAS IN THIS PLACE AND I DID NOT KNOW IT”
(GEN. 28:16).

10 Replies to “OUT EAST, BACK WEST”

  1. Ingrid Christensen says: Reply

    Amazing description Heather…..sorry about the fracture though, ouch!! Guess what? You and I both have orange drawers in our desks. I have not been keeping up with you as I returned to nursing, home health. It has been much more of a challenge than I imagined.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, well great minds think alike, Ingrid. Mine is actually red, from Ikea–a little file cabinet I put together myself many years ago and on which the top drawer has never been right…thanks and blessings on your home health care works of mercy–

  2. Joyce Bock says: Reply

    I so thoroughly identified with your coming home post. I even have a knee injury that has affected my ability to walk for exercise and refreshment.
    You remark “ to commit fully to my life here” spoke to me strongly. Maybe traveling has the ironic effect of helping us appreciate being home!
    Blessings, Joyce Bock

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, absolutely, Joyce–sometimes I think the whole reason I travel is because returning home feels so good! I was kind of exaggerating for comic effect but another thing about travel–something shifts. We see from a different point of view whether we want to or not…so we come home with slightly different eyes and ears. This was an incredibly fruitul and instructive trip, I am seeing, on many different levels…and the bad knee makes it so I can walk a few blocks but S-L-O-W-L-Y…and that’s its own kind of richness. Hope your own knee is on the mend, and thank you–

  3. Thank you for the quote from Mother Teresa. Have read several books on her but never heard that. With the state of the world and our country right now that is a good thought to ponder. By the grace of God may we know that joy that only He can give.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      At least that’s the way I remember the quote, Frances…it captures both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection so simply, and reminds us that Christ came so that our joy may be complete…

  4. Philippe Garmy says: Reply

    Heather dear, I hope you’re on the mends and healing well: body, mind and soul! Truth to tell, it could have been much worse. It’s lovely to see you once again in good cheer!

    Going on holiday meant setting the alarm for 6 am on that very first night. Then, the following morning when it suddenly bursts into that annoyingly loud “all hands on deck” ring-a-ding-ding, giving it a mighty good slap off…followed by lazily rolling over to sleep again, all smiles and grins.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Philippe, it could have been way worse and the way I’ve been slowed down is actually a crazy gift…oh the alarm, on travel mornings…like a jolt of electricity to the whole system!…I really am healing nicely, and can now kneel at Mass, though not fully genuflect :)…Blessings to you in Paris–

  5. Cathyfalvey says: Reply

    Throughly enjoyed your post.(east/west. Travels.). Many times for me too, I don’t seem to travel that well. I must though since my family is spread out. I do usually come back with renewed family or friend bonding. Also usually some wisdom and can’t forget appreciation for home sweet home!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Right, Cathy! Minute by minute, travel is always kind of hard–but once we’re home and re-settled, we feel a shift has occurred…or we’ve made a discovery about ourselves, had a little epiphany maybe. And then those random moments of beauty that also inevitably happen during travel take up residence in our memories…and then next thing you know, even if we’ve sworn off travel forever, the urge arises again…I, too, went back East every year for 30 years to visit my family…

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