Monday, October 5, 2009

Gentleman, (re) Start Your Engine: (Falls Church to Opal, VA)

Top: Annabelle, Pam, Lily, me, John & Faith Walter in Falls Church on Sunday night
Below: Me, Martha & John Andrews in Nokesville on Monday night

I left Washington, DC on a bright Sunday morning, walking east from Union Station through Georgetown and then over the Francis Scott Key Bridge into Virginia. Truth be told it was a little difficult to get my engine restarted. It felt like a new start, yet without the excitement and anticipation of my departure from West Hebron five weeks before. In place of the anticipation lurked growing doubts.

This feeling didn't surprise me. I've done enough reflecting on my life to know that I am really good a beginnings, but not so good at what comes later - the mix of tedium, small joys, big challenges and the ever present fears that I won't be up to the task. All I have to do is take a quick look in the rear view mirror of life to see how that pattern has played out in my life.

In 1995 I dove headlong into teaching, only to abruptly give it up a year later. In 1998 I took a second dive into that same pool, this time in the UCLA Teachers Education Masters Program and had an even more aborted effort, leaving the program after a single semester on the eve of student teaching. In 2001 I went to Guatemala to learn Spanish by immersion. What was planned as a two month stint at a school in Xela quickly turned into four weeks with one week of travel tacked on. I never did learn Spanish.

I certainly don't want to dwell on the past but it would be silly for me to ignore patterns and the lessons they can teach me. So when I looked out over the expanse of this trip - four and a half months, 1600 miles - I knew I was going to hit a couple of figurative walls where my willingness started to wane and my mind played its familiar "you have nothing to prove, let's cut and run before this feels too uncomfortable" tune.

Over these first three days in Virginia I am starting to notice that tune playing in the background of my mind - sometimes very faint, other times quite pronounced. The difference is that this time I am expecting it. It isn't taking me by surprise. For me, the best way to combat it is to simply get completely Present and to realize that I am OK right now in this moment. The phantom fears and doubts that my mind generates always exist in an imagined future. If I get rid of that future projection and concentrate solely on what is happening right now, I am reminded that things aren't so bad after all. On the contrary, being Present reminds me how blessed I really am.

Another crucial difference between how I am now and how I was then is that I keep a simple truth front and center in my consciousness. Feelings aren't facts. Three short words that I repeat to myself when I feel down and discouraged. Being that I am outside a lot I've taken to another metaphor. Feelings are like clouds. One day they are here, the next they are gone. The following day another formation entirely inhabits the sky. The fact that feelings - like clouds - come and go and never, ev-ah, stay in the sky forever helps me remember that I might be a bit discouraged today, but that doesn't mean that I won't feel upbeat and reinvigorated tomorrow.

Luckily, evenings with my hosts have continued to be a source of encouragement and joy. It is amazing how important it is for me to be with people and escape some of the less helpful obsessions of my mind. My mind often tries to work against me, but my hosts never do. So far in Virginia I have had two sets of hosts and one, shall we say, challenging evening alone.

On Sunday night I stayed with the Walter family in Falls Church. John works for ABS, but I've knew him even before I worked there from when Geneva Global was a business partner and I would often drive him to and from the Paoli train station. We've had great discussions over the years so I was excited when he and his wife Pam were able to host me my first night out of DC. I simply could not wallow in any self doubt while in the Walter house. It is a hive of activity - comings and goings, lots of conversation, encouragement and, most importantly, love. Having four kids bunched between the ages of 7 and 14 will create that level of activity. But only really intentional parenting creates the atmosphere of love and a shared sense of community that I witnessed. So John and Pam, be forewarned. If I ever have a big family I'm going to be coming to you for tips.

On Monday night I was even greater need of succor. My sojourn from Falls Church down to Nokesville was a struggle. I'm not sure if it can be attributed to the cost of asphalt, or to poor transportation planning, or possibly to an outright hatred of walkers, but the shoulders on many of the roads I took on Monday were almost none existent. For much of the afternoon I was walking on the edge of a road with no shoulder, suspiciously eyeing each car that hummed toward me, calculating whether or not I should move over into the high grass or if I was okay where I was. Needless to say such vigilance adds another layer of exhaustion to an already long day. So when I arrived at the Andrews' house in Nokesville I was pretty well beat down. Because I was so tired I didn't make it much past dinner. John, Martha and I had a nice meal, caught up on family talk and then I had to excuse myself to go to sleep at the embarrassing hour of 8pm. Just call me Ben Franklin. I'm not sure if Poor Richard was right about the healthy, wealthy and wise benefits of going to bed early. At this point I'll settle just for the healthy. I've felt a cold coming on and that is the last thing I want to be battling along with my other physical challenges.

And speaking of challenges, Tuesday awaited. But that will have to be another post. Let's revel in the enjoyment of my first two nights in Virginia before delving into the adventure that was Tuesday.


  1. As you walk thru this part of va...enjoy the beauty that abounds. the trees are starting to turn, there are lots of nice bugs, birds and animals to see. You are now in the south, and you will not meet nicer folks than you do in "these parts."

    you will be in louisa on friday...and there is a home football game at the "lion's den" (high school). if you get a need to go there. finer rural virginia football you will never see again...and the show that goes with this community is worth the trip.

    i would suggest a breakfast (if you can) at the mineral restaurant...that would top off your trip!

    sending you an email as well,
    enjoy the beauty!