(For part one, click here.)
“Hi, can you hear me?”
“Yes! Is everything okay?”
Babs’s voice came through my car’s speakers loud and clear, surprising me. I wasn’t expecting such strong cell service in eastern Oregon.
“Yes, but I’m, ah, driving east because OREGON IS ON FIRE,” I replied.
“Oh my god, Pop and I were watching on the news. It looks awful. Is Bend safe?”
“Yeah, so far, but the smoke reached hazardous levels this morning and I was like, ‘Nope.’ I’ve been driving east for 90 minutes and it’s still smoky. It feels apocolyptic.”
“Wow…well, you know, you could always come here.”
I hadn’t dared suggest it. Not only was “here” still 3,000 miles away, in New Jersey, but my parents were firmly situated in the vulnerable population group when it came to COVID-19. Even though I hadn’t seen another soul in over a week, was it too risky?
“I was thinking about it!” I laughed. “I’m gonna stock up on wine at Trader Joe’s in Boise and keep you posted.”
That night I made it past Salt Lake City and my fate was sealed: New Jersey or bust. Was it selfish? Crazy? Would state border police stop me and shove a giant Q-Tip up my nose? Send me packing back to Oregon? Put me in one of those cute little jail cells like on Once Upon a Time?
I hadn’t seen my family since early December. Before moving to Bend, Oregon in June 2019, I lived mere minutes from my parents, sister, niece, and nephew. Game nights, family dinners, and weekend outings were standard fare.
After a stressful move to a new apartment last November during a massive snow storm, battling severe winter depression, and then, you know, a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, my priorities had fully shifted from “greatest global good” to “DEAR GOD SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE ME A HUG.”
I put pedal to the metal as I burned through 11 states in four days. It felt amazing to have a plan. To work towards a tangible goal.
To learn every country song currently topping the charts. To head towards the promise of human interaction – under the same roof! I basked in the glow of those formless, wordless things that turn “existence” into “life.” Hand sanitizer, masks, and pushing doors open with sweater sleeves were tiny prices to pay for the return of hope.
Over the following month, I filled my family love tank to the brim.
“Wow, you drove all the way back to Bend with your mom? How did that go?” several people asked after hearing that I made the long return trip from New Jersey to Oregon with Babs in tow.
“You know, any other time maybe we would have gotten on each other’s nerves, but it was great. I just kept thinking, ‘What if this is the only time I ever get to do this?'” I answered.
A new perspective had settled in. A calm acceptance that this might be as good as it gets. A project manager and lifelong planner, I was finally starting to make decisions based on, “What makes sense today?” The ultimate answer, of course, has always been the same -follow love- but the approach was different.
To many of us, “love” equals “security,” and that means planning and preparing to care for our families, communities, and environment in the future. Heck, that’s why I’m vegan. But what if…we can’t? I’ve spent nearly four decades with my eyes firmly planted on the horizon; sometimes a source of comfort, but more often, anxiety.
To operate under the seemingly morbid idea that tomorrow might be worse -or never come at all- brought a strange sense of peace. It turns out that decisions made by asking, “How do I follow love and joy today?” are pretty damn solid.
Happy birthday, Babs!!!