I heard a story once about Michelangelo. He was asked how he could sculpt such lifelike, beautiful sculptures. He considered a moment, then replied, “I chip away all that is not part of what it is.” Or something like that.
That very thing is what is going on here. This isn’t about a woman living in a camper. If that is all it was about it would be boring. Plenty of people camp. Then they go home and park the camper and go about their lives.
This is my life. This is the first time I’ve experienced pure freedom to live as I wish, and I got thrown into it and had to discover like the kid who gets tossed in the pool and learns he loves to swim that I actually like having my own camper. My own house. No landlord to say what I can do to it. I can fix it and decorate it and put nails in the walls if I want. (I don’t want to put nails in the walls although I did find a canvas sailor bag at a thrift sale for 3.00 which I use as a laundry bag and I hung that on a nail in the wall).
I never had freedom. I had a metaphorical leash on my neck most of my life. I had to do what church said. I had to do what the Bible said. I was never allowed to do extra curricular activities because they were on church day. I was chained by legalism so confining I felt choked and overwhelmed most of the time. Never good enough. I had a dad who told me incessantly I was never good enough and who did not allow me to do much of anything. He never liked anyone who took me on a date. He told me I wasn’t good enough for my dates.
I grew up chained by the tapes in my head. “You can’t do…or be…__________fill in the blank. How many opportunities did i miss out on thinking I couldn’t do that anyway? I thought I had to go to school then college then go be successful and make lots of money and get married and have kids and then get old and retire. That’s the American dream.
I failed utterly in achieving any of that and that dragged me down for years chasing it and wondering why my friends seemed so successful and I was not. Feeling badly for failing at getting the big job and the great guy who was supposed to adore me and the nice house and the kids and the stocks and bonds and retirement and bank account and vacations once a year.
What a carousel of futility. Thats how we spend our lives. Chasing the American dream.
What if all we were told about that, about success– was just plain wrong?
While we chew on that here is my new refrigerator:
It has a big block of ice in it along with my eggs, butter, milk, and juice. So far that block of ice has not melted at all for one day. I am interested in seeing how long it lasts in the insulated bag I stuck in the insulated box.
Yes, they are all cold! I can’t yet afford one of those coolers that keep your ice ice until you’re old. That will come at the end of the month. For now, this innovation seems to be working well.
Eggs are on the stove heating up on a gift I found in a cubby under the stove. I bless the people I bought this camper from. A hot plate. I don’t have to use the propane at all. Its purely backup for the furnace should it get -50 in the winter.
And along with the renovations and curtains I’ve really started making it my own with my books. I will have to go through the rest of my books because I can’t keep them all–too small a space–but thats okay. I keep the ones that mean the most and serve the public by donating the rest which I have read to the local public library! And I have a Kindle which has 200 books on it. Perfect for the minimalist. I keep the real books I love for I will never succumb to technology completely. I love the experience of reading a book. The feel of a book. The marginalia from previous owners who wrote their thoughts in the margins. The smell of the pages. The sound of the page turn.
My eggs are done and, because I am back on the protein bandwagon–I don’t respond well to carbs–my body rebels when I eat too many carbs and my ankles and feet swell and I feel woozy and awful. So I mix the eggs with tuna and organic mayonnaise and onion and put some of it in a low carb flax, oat and wheat pita pocket bread. The rest goes in a plastic container and into the “fridge” for lunch tomorrow.
My water got shut off for the winter (already!) So I had to put Plan B into action. I got a 3 gallon self serve water jug for now but….(I know we all hate Wal-Mart…) They have a program where you can get a five gallon jug of water for 7 bucks and then reuse the jug for just a few cents per fill up. Five gallons of water will last me a long, long time. Right now the 3 gallon jug will last me a long time. So I don’t have to use small bottles of water and create more trash waste.
Back to the books and the point of this post. When you strip your life down to the bare essentials, you are left facing yourself clearly day by day. You have to face certain things. For me I am listening to Kate Rusby and Declan O’Rourke sing Bring me a Boat and am grieving the best man I ever knew. He was a beautiful man, sad, contemplative, alone in that appealing Heathcliff on the moor kind of way, the Mr Rochester to my Jane Eyre. I was too young and he too old and we found one another on either side of that abyss and spent endless hours talking of all we loved, books, music, his travels, his great love, different things he’d lived through in his life, and he spent many hours asking me questions about myself. We laughed a lot. He gave me terrifically bad coffee that was so strong I almost couldn’t drink it. Gevalia coffee. He was my teacher and he gave me the world. He made me want to travel and see all the places we talked about going or had gone or wanted to go. Ireland was a big one with him. Hearing him describe a foreign love affair he had made my romantic soul take off. He gave me Blake’s poetry and Bob Dylan. The first tape he gave me of Dylan perplexed me. Then I listened again. And again. And suddenly I couldn’t get enough. I still don’t get him entirely–Dylan. But I love the music. Same with Charlie Parker and Coltrane and Billie Holiday, all of which he introduced me to. He was so carefree yet distracted. I loved to watch him walk . He was here yet wandering off in his mind somewhere and he had this way of meandering slowly while lost in thought, lock of hair drifting down over his forehead waywardly, and once, he did not know I was there and I was right in front of him! When he came to himself, the grin on his face when he saw me was the sun breaking through the clouds. He had grey-blue eyes that were like the great Lake on stormy days and sometimes, they seemed blue. He had square hands and wore jeans with a suit coat and turtleneck in class or in winter a sweater with a navy pea coat and black jeans and loafers. Always comfortable yet classy. Always.
He came to my concert when I played with the college chamber orchestra. We did the Albinoni Organ Concerto. I was in my performance black. Suddenly I felt him there and I looked and sure enough, there he was, and suddenly the night was meaningful and my soul sang along with my viola. He made the evening special just by being there. He stayed after to share how he enjoyed it. He was so pleased with the fact I played the viola. I couldn’t look at him in the eyes. I was suddenly shy and unsure and the way he looked at me I did not know but it made me feel like I could fly. We had many visits. He was a gentleman. We never dated and never kissed or anything. It was more than that. It was an intellectual meeting of the minds that was intimate and expansive and joyous all at once. We loved spending time together talking. Hours flew by. Once I got to meet his mom and brothers and I felt like family. I felt like he was my family.
How can you love someone and not even know it? I didn’t know what to do. I did perhaps the only thing I felt to do feeling this huge thing ive never known for this man and being terrified and young and unsure. I ran.
When I told him I was leaving he got quiet. It was in his office. He stared out the window a long time. It was so quiet. It was like glass shattering. I’ve never experienced anything like it since. He turned to me with a sad smile and told me I had to go. “You have to go see the world. Go to Madison in the spring when the cherry trees blossom. Its quite the sight.”
Years went by and there were letters and cards and occasional visits when I came home, in one visit he looked at me a long time and asked me if I had a soulmate. I gazed back at him a long time and said “yes I do,” and I now wish fervently I had told him it was him. The things we wish we had said when someone was alive. We all have that regret.
There were in the intervening years postcards to him from where I went in the world. I married. I invited him but he did not come. I spent too much time thinking about why he didn’t come when I was walking down the aisle to marry someone else. That marriage failed and I blame myself because my heart was not all there. I love him still. I always will. It has been constant and quiet and beautiful like the lake always there, never ending. I did not know that was what real love was like. Now I do know and I am blessed to have had it even if I was never with the man I loved so wholly rightly.
I got one more postcard before he walked into that good night so quietly. He slipped away in his sleep.
You never recover from grief. Not really. They don’t tell you that. It is a searing knife that cuts you so deep you think you want to die. It is a disconnection. A cord cutting. It hurts less over time. But tears come at odd moments when a certain song comes on or you smell coffee or see a show or a beautiful sight and you wonder what he’d think of it or think of a book you read. When he died I did not know till a few months later. I felt something was off. As if a phone line was cut. I just knew. I never spoke of this till now. I am faced with the grief I have run from.
It seemed right somehow when his brother in one visit and sister in law in another gave me his books and a cassette of music. The books he taught out of. A tape he made of songs he liked. I have treasured them and taught out of them and they have a value that is inestimable. He liked to write in books and so he seems to be in them somehow.
I got a packet of shamrock seeds when I went to Ireland and gave some to him at the cemetery. He never knew I went.
He told me to go to Dublin at Christmas when the snow gently falls and sit in Bewleys Coffee Shop and watch the snow through the windows.
He loved that I lived. He would love that I live in this camper. He used to call me the girl with the gypsy feet. And so I am. These gypsy feet have gone to 9 countries and 37 states and experienced many people a d cultures and I am better for all the experiences I have had. I am bettee for having known him. I went on and I go on, open to new opportunities and open to a new love should one enter my life. Until then, here’s to you Fitz. You’d get such a kick out of all this.
You face yourself when you strip the possessions away. You have to in order to experience who you really are so you can live into the next authentic experience.
Its all about authenticity. Feeling your feelings. Not running. Not hiding.