Backtracking in Big Sur
In April of 2017, the situation had become untenable. I don’t know what I meant by the “situation”, exactly, but I think it was more akin to life and where it was eluding me. And the truth is, I’d been overdue for ocean therapy for some time. “You’re a Persing,” my father said once, “That’s what we do. We go, and it helps.”
That, and I have a little more Don Draper in me than you might think. By which I mean that Big Sur has a strong tie to my soul, and that sometimes I like to be a stranger. To wander the road and be unknown for a while. To feel the freedom of that, even alongside the terror. Because isn’t that a rough description of what it is to fly unencumbered? One moment, “Anything could happen!” The next, “Oh God. Anything could happen.” Much of life, much of singleness in particular, lies in the in-between. The tension of “both-and”, as my therapist is fond of saying.
But maybe I also needed to see a stranger crying, walk across a circle and hug them, acknowledging there was something shared in our brokenness, in our heavy souls, in shoulders that shake as we try to speak out the unspeakable.
It’s always felt male to me, that wandering. Something more acceptable to the man on the run. Maybe that’s why I crave it. Less the running, more the freedom, more the strength, that in going I am autonomous, the captain of my soul. Maybe there’s something female in feeling tied-down, boxed-in…yet even as I write this, I know it to be untrue. How many men must feel this too, if they told the truth? Isn’t that what we learned from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, some sixty years ago?
So maybe I’m instead touching on something human. Something in being created. That we ache for more. As I read recently in a book made of equal parts mediocrity and staggering truth, “The only thing unlimited in humanity is our capacity to desire.”
I was made to want. And I never seem to stop. That’s it, isn’t it? That by never stopping, never retreating, I feel I can either chase my wants down or run as far as I can away from them. Enough noise, and maybe I can stop hearing them.
But something about the ocean brings me back. Something about the still of a forest, and the God who made all of it, myself included. A peaceful forcing from running away.
All that to say…I went.
But this Big Sur was different. I knew it would be, solely because I was.
There was much around Easter this year that left me far from wanting to celebrate. It’s too much to go into now, or maybe it isn’t, but the more I’m writing about this, the more I’m realizing that there are going to be two versions of this account—one for the internet, and one to be unearthed at a later time, when more dust has settled. Even if that means my dust. So I will try to be as vulnerable as I can for now. Forgive my mess.
There’s a thing that happens in the drive to Big Sur, where I’m driving up these endless inland windy roads, and I’m seeing all this green forest, and first it’s idyllic and calm. But then it’s difficult driving, and it never seems to end, and all the trees feel the same.
And I start to regret the whole trip. “Why did I do this? I have wasted five hours of my life. How can anything possibly be worth this much driving? A tree is a tree, a mountain is a mountain, a river is a river—”
Then, suddenly, with one more turn, I rise up high enough, and I see it. My breath catches in my chest.
And it’s all I can do to not drive off a cliff, it’s so stunning—that coastline, from atop my windy mountain. I see the blue, so beautiful that it hurts a little to look, because it reminds me of how much I throw away, how much time I spend messing about in the mud, grousing and worrying, when this exists.
And any power, any gift I have for expression leaves me. I’m shaken by something larger than me. And any questions I have, doubts about why I drove five hours up the coast melt away. And I realize how deeply I need to fiercely seek out these moments. That’s why I came.
And yet. And yet, and yet…
Even in a trip expressly set aside for this clarity, still I found myself falling back into a pattern of worry, of stress over lost time, of worrying about backtracking.
Part of the imagined ease of my pilgrimage was cut short by some of the closures on Highway 1 due to the landslides. Last time I was up there I faced a similar issue, but because of the fires. So yes, it seemed at times, at my most depressive and self-absorbed, that the very elements were against me. And at my healthier moments—that yes, the world was beyond my control. Not everything is always mine for the taking.
So I was forced to retreat within limits. Limits which forced me into a long and winding inland road, way out of Internet range. I wanted to roam free, but freedom was different than I thought. So in an attempt to go where I usually go up the coast, I ended up backtracking one hour inland to discover when I reconnected with reception that Google maps “Couldn’t find a way there.”
So back I went to the farm, my tent-cabin in the woods. I was uncertain, and scared, and feeling an inordinate pressure to find this epiphany that would justify my decision to step away from a traditional Easter service this weekend. Because if God didn’t answer all my worries, I would have failed.
Of course I knew on a wiser level that this wasn’t true. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t plague me.
But there’s something to be said for backtracking. I couldn’t let loose of the physical example of fighting for perspective. Jaz. Do not be angry about having to drive down the same road twice. It is a damned beautiful road.
And finally it occurs to me that this is what so much of my life is right now. Forward, back, forward, back--but the progress is less about distance covered, and so much more about what I’m seeing all the way. Which is so cheesy that it kills me a little, but whatever. Sometimes life is that much an obvious smack in the face. I'm just going to keep driving.