I am thirty-eight years old and just recently took my first solo trip. I’ve traveled before, but always with someone. This was a trip just for me, all about me. I left my son and husband at home so that I could attend a writing retreat in Lake Arrowhead.
It wasn’t easy for me to make the decision to attend this retreat. I was intrigued by the idea; I wanted to experience a weekend where the only thing I had to do was write. But I was afraid. Afraid of what it would be like for my family without me and afraid of what it would be like for me without my family.
Once I arrived, I realized that the drive up the mountain was really a metaphor for life. There were parts of the drive that were quite beautiful. Parts where I marveled that human beings could create a highway on this mountain. But there were other parts that were frightening. A steep climb, a series of twists and turns, yellow signs with zig-zaggy arrows. Curves and bends without an end in sight. Where was I going?
Thanks to my husband’s help, I had a map on my phone, and a little voice that alerted me when I needed to turn left or right.
But things happen. A lane is closed. A street has a detour, and I needed to adjust my route.
That’s the part I’m still trying to get better at. I don’t always like it when things don’t go as planned. And, for the last few years, my life hasn’t gone as planned. An autoimmune disease wasn’t part of any plan. As a result, it has become a huge part of who I am and what I do and do not do.
Even with this trip, I almost let my disease stop me from going. What if my legs hurt during the drive? What if I had a flare-up while I was away from the comforts of my home? What if ...? And the answer was, then I’ll deal with it. Same way I deal with it when I have pain at the California Science Center or during dinner.
On day three, it was time to come home. And while I knew driving downhill would be easier than driving uphill, the trip down the mountain was frightening in its own way. The car picked up speed, seemed to have its own momentum, and I was (literally) carried along for the ride. But, ultimately, it was up to me to make sure the speed didn’t get out of control.
For one stretch of the drive, I wound up behind a large tour bus. The driver navigated each twist and turn slowly and cautiously, and I, and the drivers behind me, were forced to do the same. It was a reminder to me that in life it’s okay to slow down, to go even a little more slowly than necessary. And in truth, those slow turns did help me relax a bit.
Driving home, I still relied on the little voice on my phone to help me navigate. But the longer I drove and the closer I got to home, the more familiar I felt with my surroundings. As in life, I had to first go through those new patches until I could reach the familiar.
I turned thirty-eight this year, and I said it was going to be a year where I pushed myself to do things -- things that are scary, things that I tend to classify as “maybe” or “someday.” This trip, this writing retreat, was one of those things.
For so long, I was on automatic pilot, and I didn’t have time to think about things like who I am, or if I’m happy, or what else I hope to accomplish. I was a teacher. A mother. A wife. I knew what I had to do, I knew what I had to accomplish. And I knew that those jobs would make me very happy at certain times, and very unhappy at other times. But that was all part of the plan.
Now, without the full-time, away-from-home job, things have shifted. Plans have changed. Now, I am not a teacher, but I am a writer. And I am a writer who plans to go on more retreats.