I had been out of college for less than a year when my Grammy’s bright light of divinity began to flicker. Up in Carbondale, PA the blue-room that we were forbidden from entering as children, had its glass paned doors swung wide open and it’s walls painted rose. The antiques and collectibles and all the fancy fragile knicks and knacks were removed and replaced with a hospital bed and cards hanging from the wall. Where the porcelein boxer dog (that I forced myself to stare into the bulgy eyes of) was once perched now held a framed 8×10 photo of Pope John Paul II and a prayer card for Mother Theresa.
I was back in Charleston, SC. I say “back” because in the fall, I packed up my little life and my freshly minted Bachelor of Science degree and moved it up to Charlotte. To the big city. To ‘begin my career’ I told myself. It took only a few weeks to realize how much I hated it. It was crystal clear that it was not the right fit for me. I repacked up my little life, turned the car back to the Low Country and landed in a spare bed in my pal Mungbean’s huge bedroom. She was finishing up her senior year. I was working several jobs and stockpiling cash in a box under my bed. Our walls were adorned with a few photos from my family’s trip to Jackson Hole and magazine pictures of Alaska we had been cutting out of Backpacker all year. Once we celebrated Mungbean’s graduation, we were headed west. We loosely planned to land in Homer, Alaska…but we were both open to see where the road led us.
I spoke often to my grandmother that winter. As often as practical when I had to run ½ mile up the street to the payphone at Colonial Lake. It was the peak of the calling card era and 1.800.CALLATT dial up the middle. She shared with me that she still suffered daily from gut wrench and heart break over losing her sister, Grace. She thought time would heal, but that it had not. I remember wanting to love my sister with that kind of devotion. One time, after the morphine drip started, she asked whimsically if I thought it would be simply the best thing in the world if someone would wheel me under a keg and just let it pour into my mouth. i happened to agree. i probably had not been more than a week away from a keg stand during the conversation. we were so alike i thought. When we spoke of my plans to cross the mighty Mississippi, she told me “you are not going to find yourself, you are going to be yourself.” I hung on to that. All these years.
In February, I wrote my Gram a letter. It was a vow to honor her legacy in ways big and small. When her flicker faded out on April Fool’s Day, I was asked to read it at her funeral. It is a moment that I can relive with vivid clarity. I walked up to the altar at St. Rose church, genuflected, and turned to stand in front of my entire family. I gulped a few breaths of air to steady myself, and then I smiled. It was easier to share than I imagined. I didn’t need to look down to my letter much. I knew. I was six weeks away from setting my sails and leaving my family. Only one of my dad’s cousin had flown so far from the coop. Everyone else remained within a mornings drive of each other. They would never miss each other’s baptisms, communions, graduations, or holidays. As I began to speak, I felt right with myself. I was explaining to my family, as I looked them each in the eyes, that although I may not know where I’m going, and I have little idea of what I’ll be doing, I will be okay. I will take all the teachings with me. I will be lead by example. My recipe for good-living was set in that letter. It had no mention of location or vocation, just how I planned to live and how I planned to love…deeply and richly. All of which was taught to me by watching my Grammy interface in her own unique fashion with the world.
I thought about that letter from time to time throughout the years. I did not have a copy of it. It was before I began the practice of writing the rough draft of my letters in my journals. I could not recall the ins and the outs of it, of all the things I commited to, but I knew the gist. And I was confident that I was honoring it. I must have read it at least once in the past two decades, because I knew the original was lying somewhere in the “Shane” room in my parent’s house.
Last week, I asked my dad if he could locate it and send me a copy (actually I asked him to take a photo and send a screenshot – we’ve come a long way since dial-down-the-middle.) He did as I requested, and accompanied it with a heart-touching note. Tears first collected in the corner of my eyes, and then streamed down my cheeks as I read it. It was like checking in with my 22 year-old self. It was more than checking in. It is when the memory scoped into clear focus of me making those promises to my family. It felt similar to crossing over another finish line that I made for my own self. I felt enormous swells of pride as I reflected on my lifestyle for the past two decades. I did it. I sussed out the important parts of living a joyful life, carried the knowledge close to my heart, and allowed it to sprinkle throughout each phase and each journey.
This year, I am writing a book. This entry could possibly be the first chapter. There are only 35ish of you out there reading what I write. Related to most, friends with the rest (that includes you, SpinnenCin!). My posts get little acknowledgement or feedback – and that is no skin off my back. This blog has been a place to practice. A place to chronical our journey and remember it like it was. So the veil of nostalgia does not sugar coat the challenges when we reflect back on our days.
I have seen most of you in the time since I began writing and you following along. Even you, Cam Vogt, sitting on a wall in Disney World. Your words of encouragement certainly helped give me the confidence to give a book a whirl. Each one of you. Your simple sharing with me that you enjoy both the storyline and the way it is written. It’s what is next for me. Squeezing it in before the homies and I hit the road with Adventure Schooling next year.
I have lived in Wyoming longer than my time in Pennsylvania. and both are home. and so are the Carolinas. i’m a lucky duck to have already lived so richly and so deeply.
Kicking the blog to the curb for a while, while I do my next thing. I sincerely appreciate each whisper of encouragement that has helped, yet again, to set wind to my sails.