I’d like to take you back to the evening of October 10th, 2013. Thanks to the government shut-down, I had just been placed on furlough from a job that I absolutely hated. I remember sitting in my little apartment, still in my workout clothes from much earlier in the day. At that moment in time, I had no idea what my next move was going to be. I knew I was ultimately going to leave Garrett County (for the second time in my life), but I had no clue where I’d go, nor how to gather the strength and energy to relocate. Again. As relieved as I was that I never had to return to such a miserable environment, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and undeniably grumpy.
There was a knock on my door, and I slouched over to answer it. Two of my friends from work were there, grinning at me, one of whom had become a brotherly buddy, the other I was over the moon for – a thousand times and back again. They had come to basically drag me to the yearly Oompah Festival, which I had zero intentions of attending.
For those of you who weren’t raised in my mountaintop hometown, Oompah is a big, loud party that takes place in the street, with live music, lots of beer, and plenty of opportunities to bump into people you haven’t seen in years. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood. My comrades, however, weren’t taking “NO!” for an answer. And I’m so glad they didn’t.
I ended up having such a fantastic time. I was able to temporarily let go of my worries, and I lost count of how many people scooped me up into huge hugs, reaffirming that unexplainable, unbreakable small town connection that we Garrett County natives are fortunate to share. I couldn’t stop hugging one of my best pals from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in several years. And heaven bless that girl, she jumped into being my wing-man so quickly, as though no time had passed between us at all.
Because it’s true, along with being surrounded by so many people from my past, I was also trying to soak up being in the presence of someone who quite literally had the ability to make the rest of the world fade away into a warm, fuzzy haze. At one point, I felt him take my hand and give it a gentle squeeze. It lasted only a few seconds, but it anchored me to what I was experiencing at that precise moment in time. Joy. Forget the nonsense, forget the uncertainty, forget the stress. Be right here, right now, because we will never have this moment again.
It wasn’t long after that October evening that I departed on my cross-country journey, my little car packed with the essentials, my spirit yearning for the freedom of the open road, my heart heavy with the knowledge that what I truly wanted wasn’t mine to claim. So I ventured onward, feeling simultaneously fragile and fearless. I visited friends I hadn’t seen in years. I sang along to favorite songs at the top of my lungs, as I drove through towns that appeared untouched by time. I laughed. I cried. I discovered. I loved. I was changed, irrevocably.
I’ve found that looking forward can be challenging, especially when memories from the past are still haunting your present thoughts. This much is indisputable – some people get under your skin and remain there, as hard as you may fight to purge them from your heart. Even with the knowledge that timing – that devastating, debilitating, infuriating force – won this particular battle; and you’re forced to accept that there is no way to change what cannot be. But I take comfort in this certainty: There is a meaning, there is a purpose, there is a lesson. And my eyes will be opened, exactly when they’re meant to be.
What a difference the past year and a half has made. So much has changed. I’m beginning to catch my breath again, slowly but surely; and I’m feeling the fog lift, as my feet begin to trust that the ground beneath them is not going to disappear. Small victories. Unexpected adventures. Deep breaths… Viva la vida, friends. Live this life, and be here now.