Sunday, February 19, 2012

Already My Garden Grows

by Zinta Aistars

At the north trail head of Saugatuck Dunes

It's an old, almost cliche lesson, I know .... but admit it, we all need regular reminders, don't we? Appreciate the day while you have it. Time is shorter than you think.

I was driving home after a wonderful afternoon spent hiking Saugatuck Dunes, just north of the little resort village of Saugatuck in southwest Michigan, and the sun had set. Night was deep, dark, and I was admittedly a tad too impatient to get where I was going. On a country road with two-way traffic, stuck behind two vehicles traveling below the speed limit of 55 mph, I decided to pass.

As I pulled out into the other lane, that very moment a pair of headlights appeared that had the moment before  been hidden in the dip of a small hill. I was too far out, however, to pull back into my lane. Do or die. I pressed down hard on the gas pedal to pick up as much speed as possible to get past the one vehicle and squeeze into the slim space between.

Oddly, I don't think my heart ever picked up an extra beat. I suppose I should have felt a fright, but I didn't. I could see that the oncoming car knew I was in a tight space, and he or she pulled over to the shoulder just in case I couldn't make it. What the other car that I was passing was doing, I couldn't quite tell. He was now in my blind spot. I relied on his ability to see how tight I was cutting it and give me room when I got at least a quick flash of his headlights in my rear view mirror and dipped in between him and the other car.

Made it.

Not pretty, but no harm done. I wasn't happy with myself for not having seen the oncoming car before it was too late, but what was done was done, I slowed my speed back down, and decided to stay put between the two cars for the next some miles. No point in rushing home and not making it.

The vehicle behind me disagreed. He pulled up as close as possible behind me and turned on his brights. The glare in my rear view mirror was blinding, so I turned my mirror at an angle to avert the light. Ah, so he was pissed. Well, whatever. If he wanted me to die in a head-on crash rather than cut him off, he would have to swallow that one whole. I did what I had to do after making a stupid move.

He wasn't done, though. For the next 20 miles or so, he repeatedly pulled up close behind me and turned on his brights time after time. What was he hoping to accomplish?

Normally, this sort of thing would have put me in fighting mode. A finger flip, at least. A quick and hard tap on my brakes. Something. But as calm as I had felt when realizing I was going fast into the oncoming lights, I felt equally calm now. I was wrong, I knew it, I had followed up my mistake with a necessary action, which no doubt had made him brake hard. Sorry, dude, and now, get over it.

Yet the incident remained on my mind and into the next day. I was pondering not so much a near collision as I was my calm in that moment and the moments following. That, and yes, that I must remember to count each and every day as a blessing, because there may not be a next one.

In any given moment, whether through our own mistake or that of another's, or simply the aligning of circumstance, it can all be over. No more chances to get things right.

My mind kept winding back to the calm, though. Why didn't I get more upset? At myself even. I did indeed feel foolish. I should have watched the dark road ahead longer before making my decision to pass, to be sure it was indeed empty. I did think about impatience, and that that was something I need to work on, still. All in all, I am a much more patient driver now than I was even half a year ago. A chronic speeder, I've pretty much broken that bad habit, and now routinely travel on my daily 110-mile commute to and from work at or even slightly below the speed limit. Saving gas, saving resources, saving money, and, I had observed, saving stress. Driving fast meant constant tension and remaining constantly on high alert. Driving slower, I'd found out, gave that long commute almost a meditative quality. For all those reasons, speeding just wasn't worth it.

Soon as I departed from that lesson, I got put back into my place again. Got it.

But that calm ... that confidence in the glare of oncoming lights that the oncoming driver was going to be safe and so would I be. Huh. Interesting. And I liked that. Keeping a cool and calm head in a moment of impending doom. What had changed?

The year 2012 is still young. It's only mid February, and even though not all things are perfect, they are moving in the direction of perfection, as much as possible in our circus-y earthly lives. I have this conviction in me that this is the year that marks a threshold crossed for my family. The stars, if you will, are aligning. When I spoke recently to my mother about changes in my life and in the lives of my children, all positive, she started to cry. "You've had such a hard life," she said through her tears. Not easy for a mother, I know, because I'd long been in the same situation of watching the struggles in my children's lives, too, and there is no more exquisite pain for a mother's heart.

Things had finally turned in a better direction. My daughter is preparing for her wedding day in September to a truly fine man. My son has learned some hard lessons, long time coming, and is emerging out of his cocoon day by day, and in the process, finding in his new champion a potential long-term partner. I've gotten to know her, too, and am at peace that my son has combined best friend and romantic interest in one person--the only way to get it right. Both of my children have it right. My mother's heart hums with peace.

And me? On my lifelong search for the true Home that would hold me, I, too, have finally found my place on this earth. On March 23, I will close and become new owner of a more than century-old farmhouse in southwest Michigan with 10 wonderful acres to wander and cultivate. With one half of the acreage in deep seclusion of woods and pond surrounding the house, the other half open to the horizon, beckoning crops, I have fallen deeply in love with my own little corner of the earth. It's Z-country. I expect it will plough, seed, nurture, reap, harvest as much from me as I from it.

My art, both in writing and painting, is taking new turns. That excites me. I feel a calling to write the book I have long carried inside of me but have lacked the courage to put down on paper. It won't be easy. It will mean digging deep and opening old wounds to share the lessons learned. It will take courage to become that open and raw and vulnerable. Finally feeling safe in my new-found oasis, it's time.

The thing is, it wasn't really the oncoming headlights yesterday that were the most important part of the day. What was really important was the way that I spent the afternoon prior. I met a traveling partner for my hike, a colleague that I had so far known only within the confines of an office and workplace. If we had been friends before, it was on a professional basis, but now we had walked the woods together, walked the shoreline of Lake Michigan, shared a small dinner in the village of Saugatuck afterward. What can possibly be more satisfying than finding another human spirit that mirrors pieces and parts of our own, sharing stories, expanding one another's view on the world, and making a new friend?

Life is about human connection. Whether romantic partners, family members, or new friends, each connection made adds richness to our lives. I enjoy solitude, and as an artist I require it, great measures of it, but the moments that I emerge from that to connect with others are deeply gratifying. Within every human being is an entirely new world, unlike any other.

Already my garden grows.

Even as I watch the oncoming headlights ahead of me, or the angry flicking of lights behind me, I am at peace. I am on the right path, and that I know peace tells me I am on the right one. I am learning. I am expanding my horizons. I am making connections of meaning. I am witnessing the harvest of seeds planted long ago, now emerging as life-giving crops, green and lush under the great blue sky.

Now to slow down and open myself to all that blessing so that I don't miss it.

Saugatuck Dunes and Lake Michigan

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