Welcome to almost spring. The April showers have brought a whole lot of green to our doorstep here on the coast. For that matter so have the January, February and March showers. Our endeavor to build a life on the edge of the world continues rolling right along. Living at the intersection of land and sea, the great wide open and the deep unknown, has me wondering lately about the spaces between.
I have never really given a lot of thought to being “in the middle” of anything. Not the middle of the day, the middle of a moment and certainly not the middle of my life. I had an experience this morning however, that has me thinking quite a lot about the road between beginning and end.
On my commute to work this morning, twenty minutes up the pacific coast on the 101, I saw a young family along the side of the road. Father and mother both in their mid-twenties and two young girls somewhere between six and ten-ish. They were walking together into the coastal morning mist, determined.
The mother had the smaller girl’s hand in her own. The older daughter had a blanket around her shoulders and was snacking out of a box of what looked like crackers. Her breakfast did not slow her down though. The patriarch of the group had his thumb out and was watching the cars fly by his family on the way to places of great import. No one was crying. No one appeared to be injured. No one looked angry or anything really, just blank determined faces soldiering on.
Now, normally my inherent fear of being axe murdered keeps me well clear of hitchhikers. Seems reasonable enough. My short mamasaurus arms are of no use to me for fending off a maniac in tight spaces. It’s a stretch just to reach my own pockets, so keeping a Bunyan-esque maniac at bay is a little outside of my skill set. Nevertheless, I did not even think about what weapons a 9 or ten-year-old might mask inside a My Little Pony blanket, I just pulled over.
The father came up to the driver’s side window and for a hot second I grew concerned that he might machete my face off. He did not. I asked where they were going and he told me that they were heading into Newport to the hospital. I told him I would be glad to take them and unlocked the doors to my car without another thought.
What happened next totally baffled me in the moment. The man turned to his significant other to say whatever he was going to say and as he started to speak, she and the girls walked right on past my car without a word. Not so much as a sideways glance. Before I even and a moment to wonder if they might be going to the hospital for treatment of a horribly infections disease, before I had even a moment to consider weather one of the children might be a zombie, they were off.
The guy shrugged and said to me that he guessed she’d rather walk. And just like that the whole family walked away. Now, they had easily a seven or so mile walk ahead of them. At first I was a little confounded. I wondered if I pulled over too aggressively. I wondered if there is something about me or my Mazda Tribute that was threatening. I know there are a lot of things about both me and the car that are sketchy but not often frightening in any way (unless you cross me, don’t cross me).
I respected the mother’s wishes. As I saw them shrinking in my mirrors I thought about them all and the day ahead of them. It makes total sense to me that this woman does not want her young daughters taking rides from strangers under any circumstances. It makes just as much sense that the young man is trying everything he can think of to manage a shit situation for his family. I get it. I have, in my time, been there.
Long before the magic combination that is LM and Cody, I lived in very different circumstances. There were whole periods of my life wherein my lodging was remote and frankly insufficient. I lived for an embarrassingly long time either without transportation or with incredibly unreliable transportation. These facts combined to create an isolated and difficult existence. I regularly had no mechanism for meeting the basic needs of myself or my sons. Certainly, there was no way to manage any sort of emergency over and above the emergency of staying alive.
These are just the facts of the time. Was what it was and is not now. I don’t really think about those days all that often. We all have the trials of your youth hanging around our edges. Every one of us is a compilation of where we have been and who we have known and how we have lived. For me, I barely recognize the person who lived that life, the one before.
The distant past is like looking at a map of where I’ve been. Sitting in a chair and holding the map in my lap the distance seems so short. Not quite the breadth of the maroon and grey Griz afghan I crocheted expressly for sitting in this chair. But looking closer, at the legend of the map, I see the great secret. The map is to scale. One-inch equals five years, ten years, thirty years.
That couple today opened my eyes to the key. I realized that for more years than I care to mention I have been looking at the road ahead and seeing what sometimes felt like an insurmountable distance. The misty mirage of a distant idea of arriving over an obscured horizon. A journey for which I was just sure I did not have enough fuel. I saw today however the road behind, before, the distance already traveled and my place in the middle.
I wish that family had let me deliver them to their destination. I wish they had let anyone deliver them to their destination. Even more I wish they did not need anyone to deliver them. But we all do. At different times and in a myriad of ways we need the signpost to tell us we are making progress. We sometimes need a stranger to see themselves in us and just ask if they can lend a hand, provide some simple direction or a lift to the next way station.
I wonder if this grand year of discovery hasn’t opened up something in me that is ready to look at the whole map again. I think there is real value in appreciating the road ahead in relationship to the road behind. So, this is the middle. Hello center of me, I think we’re going to get along just fine.