It was one of the first self-help books, I think, published back in 1978 and written by M. Scott Peck, a well-known psychiatrist of his time, that came to mind as Kim and I hit the road on a monumental (for me) driving trip last September.
It was my very first trip in the Airstream, if you can believe that, so I was more than excited.
My dear friend, Kathy, agreed to leave her busy life in Massachusetts, as well as her beloved husband and pets, to come for three weeks to take care of all of my animals so I could go!
But back to that self help book that sprang to mind. The Road Less Traveled had a memorable first sentence. It stated simply that, “Life is difficult.” And young as I was when I first read it, that had frightened me. Because I think deep down in the heart of my humanity I knew it to be true. But I didn’t want it to be.
Now, of course, the living of my life has stripped away most of my youthful illusions and I have learned, as every one of us does eventually, that life is indeed hard. I mean now we wake each day to the renewed nightmare of Trump as our President Elect and I hardly know what to think or do anymore.
Except, perhaps, to write to you. I’m sorry it’s been so long. That above-mentioned difficulty in living has made writing hard for me because what I really hope to do when I write to you is to inspire both you AND me. But, even before Trump, that aspirational side of me had begun to splutter out I’m afraid. I think some of you may have noticed.
But I rose up to go on this road trip, seeing it as something of my own cry to life. My own version of not going “… gentle into that good night.”
That first day on the road, the one that had me remembering Peck’s book, we passed so many little villages and towns, as well as old homesteads, tucked way back up into canyons, nestled alongside vast mesas.
And I wondered about all of those lives being lived out there on the high desert; wondering what they found to give their lives meaning. Did they find a reason to be? Or did they simply live and die? And, not for the first time, I wondered why. Why this life? Why the struggle? Why IS life difficult?
But we stayed in one of those small villages that was tucked up into a canyon that first night, so my impersonal impressions of the road became more personal, more particular, specific.
It was a tiny community about 13 miles east of the Hopi Indian’s settlement on First Mesa (there are several Hopi villages all seemingly randomly situated, that unite three nearby mesas which are called simply First Mesa, Second Mesa and Third Mesa). And it was the site of a trading post that had opened during the last quarter of the 19th century, which continues to do regular business with both the Hopi and the Navaho today.
I hadn’t known it at the time but Keams Canyon, our little resting place that first night, is within a small pocket (approximately 20 square miles) of Hopi villages completely surrounded by the Navaho Nation.
There was a restaurant/ice cream parlor/bakery/grocery store/gift shop all in one building, which seemed to act as a kind of community center for the town, with a gas station sitting next to it.
The place offered everything we could possibly need and here I’d been thinking we’d have to rough it and just pull off on some wide spot in the road somewhere for the night. We hadn’t reserved a campsite anywhere, not knowing how far we’d get that first day. So this was a very pleasant surprise to me.
There seemed to be a very rich and celebrated sense of being Hopi everywhere I looked, as though the essential nature, the character, of Hopi was its own entity. And yet I didn’t feel excluded, but rather embraced and welcomed in to be a part of that spirit while I was there.
There’s Kim watching football while we waited for what proved to be an excellent dinner. How’s that for a nice blending of cultures?
Across the street was a small neighborhood park. The people were warm and friendly and more than happy to let us camp there for the night.
Everyone seemed so contented and kind. Dogs were well fed, running safely and happily free, seeking pets and tidbits.
Small children waved at us from trucks and held doors open for us, one little girl smiling up over her pink ice cream cone which just happened to match her pink tee shirt, hair ribbons and stuffed bear she was also carrying.
In fact a kind of grace seemed to permeate the area.
As we looked around Kim wondered if it was possible we’d been picked up and dropped into some kind of heaven.
Invited to be in that harmonious place for the whole night, we went to bed touched by the simple dignity of the sanctuary we were being allowed to share.
We woke in the morning to a light rain falling, just one more blessing in that gentle place. And I was in for a magnificent first: My very first morning traveling in the Airstream, waking to Kim’s perfect coffee!
And let me just say, it did not disappoint.
We stepped out of the trailer into the darkness of predawn, the stars still shining in the morning sky, an owl perched somewhere high on the cliffs above us softly hooting, as daylight came into being.
We had breakfast at the restaurant across the way, the only one in town, the same one we’d found so good the night before. And, yes, it was superb once again.
After breakfast I watched a father help his small boy into the backseat of their car. The father was traditionally clothed and the little boy was wearing ceremonial dress, a striped Kachina hat on his head, snake rattles swinging from his chest and thighs, making a kind of dry grass rustling sound.
And it occurred to me as I witnessed several more parents with their children, all dressed for ceremony, that this could be one of the reasons the village felt so serene. These parents and their children, each with a purpose, a tradition; belief and community and a place where they belonged; a land on which their families had continued since the beginning of time.
There is another book I have loved that also has a memorable couple of sentences, these at its very end. The book is called The Shipping News and the lines actually form a full paragraph. Here it is: “For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, and that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”
I believe its author, Annie Proulx, meant us to take an expanded meaning to her poetically mysterious finale. I think she is writing not only about love, which she seems to be relating to us as eminently possible within the rarefied, mystical, magical parts of our shared human existence.
But I think she may also have created a work that brilliantly portrays the struggles each and every one of us goes through in order to live, entirely for that last paragraph.
In it she is telling us that, as hard as life is, if there remains something about it we can’t explain or don’t understand; if there are things we simply can’t get hold of; if within all the suffering there is also magic, then within that impossibility exists the possibility for us to rise above. To cautiously, if necessary, begin to believe again. No matter the ugliness of man.
More on the road trip coming soon. I promise.
Love to you all,