“There are places I’ll rememberJohn Lennon/Paul McCartney
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead, and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all”
A coworker pointed out last week that the work calendar indicated I was on vacation. When she said it my eyes stung, because I realized I was supposed to be headed to Wild Goose. I had been avoiding think about it because if there was ever a year my soul needed the balm of Goose, it was this one. I always look forward to heading to those hills and that river, but this year the pull felt urgent.
Early on in quarantine, I spent a fair amount of time in denial about the way the pandemic would affect that, but then a friend said, “It will probably be canceled, right?” and I started to cry.
I’m trying to accept things as they are, but I can’t help but feel I should be in the car with Johnny Sunshine talking and laughing and driving to one of my thin places.
In ancient Celtic mysticism it is said there are places where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted, places where we humans can better access the Divine. The belief is that heaven is only ever really three feet away, but in some places the real estate between corporeal beings and the Divine is thinner. The banks of the French Broad River in the mountains of North Carolina are one of those places for me.
Over the past five years, Wild Goose has been a midwife to my evolving and strengthening faith. It’s a place that has encouraged me to tell my stories and a place where I attract the stories of others. It’s a place where I slow down and come back to myself. It’s a place where I feel wholly loved and seen. Goose has always accepted me for exactly who I am and then challenged me to grow.
Sitting in that fast, shallow river, hanging on to a rock and chatting with friends and God feels more like church to me than any steepled building I’ve ever been in. Dancing in thunderstorms, sitting around fires and hearing the music wend its way through the woods at night as I lay in my tent is communion. As I walk around Goose I can feel God nudging me to remember: This is who you are. Stay open. Listen. Feel. Laugh. Eat. Dance. Pray. Love.
This year, with its incessant change and losses, having Wild Goose on the horizon was one of the things that kept me going at times.
For the past half a decade, my summers were about Wild Goose and my former partner’s family home in Maine. When people asked me where I would live if I could live anywhere, that little stretch of land in the Penobscot Bay was the place I would name. I wrote most of my book there. Something about that island and that property and that house opened me up. It became my creative home.
The other day on Facebook Memories (a minefield if ever there was one), the first picture that came up was of the island. Anyone who has followed my writing for any sustained period of time knows what that place means to me. Meant to me.
A year ago, I was at my favorite place on earth with people I loved. I didn’t know it was for one of the last times. I would say I would have been more grateful and savored it more, but I don’t know if I could have. I was always fully present there. I was always soaking it up.
I’ve been trying to remember the last meal I cooked there, the last sunset, the last ice cream cone. What was I working on the last early morning I wrote, wrapped up in a blanket in the quiet farmhouse. Probably something about the island. Those love letters came so easily to me there. I wish I could conjure up a specific memory of the last sunrise, when I watched the mist rise over the meadow as I peered out the window, looking for deer. I want to frantically gather up all the memories and commit them to paper so I don’t lose them. They feel slippery already.
I keep thinking about the last hike we went on and the way the sun filtered down through the trees. I remember that. I remember the smell – soil, salt and pine. It was so beautiful. I appreciated it in the moment, but would I have been undone at its beauty if I’d known I wouldn’t walk that trail again? Would it have been more beautiful? Could it have been? Or would the pain of knowing have taken me out at the knees? Or both? I see posts from that trip and imagine I can detect a wistfulness in them. Did I sense the impending loss?
Isn’t grief funny like that? It causes you to look back on experiences like a detective, looking for clues of knowing; or an appraiser looking to assign them value. It blurs the edges of some memories and calls others into sharp relief. It changes the light in your memories. Makes it more golden.
Someone asked me recently, “where do you call home?” and I couldn’t answer the question. I moved to my current city just before the pandemic, I was uprooted from my recovery community, my children are far away, so is my family of origin, and my two favorite places-my spiritual homes- are lost to me, one for this year, one forever. My talk at Wild Goose this year was to be about loneliness and community. I have incredible people in my life. I have real connection and love. I have communities, I don’t have a home. I don’t have that touchstone. And maybe I don’t get that. We don’t all get all the things.
In the absence of in-person recovery meetings and Wild Goose, my ever resilient and resourceful community conjured up a virtual Goose Recovery meeting. One of my favorite moments of every meeting is a part in the opening when they remind us our role is not to “advise, soothe or solve” for other people.
This just is. It does not need to be fixed or cheered up. I don’t need platitudes, or to be told home is something I carry in my heart. Those are the words of someone who has a home. Our spiritual lives are very often tethered to physical places. Our connection to those places can be divine and profound, and grief over the loss of them cannot be ameliorated by a cross stitched slogan or a meme.
I’m grieving and grief is sneaky and inefficient and it takes the time it takes. I am blessed to have had beautiful experiences in places I loved. This grief is simply the flip side of that. If feeling this pain is the cost of having seen the stars hung low on that island, I’ll gladly pay it. If missing Goose this year is the price of having had the transformative experiences I’ve had there, that’s a pretty good deal. And the way I feel is temporary. Everything is temporary.
Even home, sometimes.