I've made this journey before. I know this road, and though it's been nearly five years since last I sped west on it's path, I am reminded of who I was then, who I am now, and how five years and two 1500-mile road trips toward destiny will change who you are forever.
On June 29th, 2012 my dad and I packed up my two-door Honda with everything I knew I'd need in California. Mostly books, clothes, and a few household items. Anything else I'd get in California. Maybe everything I'd ever needed I'd get in California. There are no words to describe the feeling of pulling out of my driveway that day. No words, not because the feeling was so beyond description that I couldn't possibly do the feeling justice with language, but rather no words because most of what I felt was "nothing." An excited numbness that was terrifyingly underwhelming. . I'll never forget waking up in my room that morning knowing that would be the last time I'd ever wake up in that house as a child. I'll also never forget how betrayed I felt by my own emotion in that as much as I could intellectually comprehend the gravity of that moment, I wasn't heartily moved by the weight of what I was venturing to do in the way I had expected.
It's amazing how the brain and body work together to get you through some of life's most overwhelming moments.
I'll never forget standing in my family's room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino saying goodbye to my mother and sister (They both flew to Vegas so that the four of us could spend some time together before I made it out west). While I don't remember the exact color of the carpet in the room, I remember it was surprisingly bright. Like red or purple. I remember the light was dim and the room has a nice view. What I remember most though was the inescabible feeling of being completely ill-prepared to say goodbye to my mother. What do you say as you bid farewell to the person who birthed you, clothed you, taught you to speak, read, write, sing, laugh?
"Well, Mom it's been a real pleasure getting to know you, take care a yourself down there in Oklahoma. Don't forget to write..."
"Mom thanks for all the good times, they sure were swell. See you around..."
There's nothing to say. Nothing that this then 19 year-old could come up with. I think the thing that blindsided me was the guilt. That I knew my mother and my family was grieving to see me go, and I was choosing to go anyway. I knew they were not holding my choice against me, but rather wanted me to go, though the guilt still crept in. I remember thinking the look on her face and the sound in her voice was my fault. My mother has always been the encourager and I knew she was also cheering me on at the same time, but the conflicting emotions were the most I'd ever had to process at once.
I got to Los Angeles that evening. I went to bed that night and have since that moment called California home.
So here I am again, back in Oklahoma. Loading up another Honda, making another trip west. This time as a very different person, but also still ever so much the same. Saying goodbye to the same people, driving out of the same driveway, taking the same interstate. Pursuing the same dream. But this time the only transplant is my mom's old car, now mine, sure to travel many miles between the 5, 405, and 101.
It's a special thing, what the road does to you. You spend enough time on it and you get to know people in a new way. Maybe that's why Jack Kerouac was so insightful. I know it's taught me wonderful things about the people I love. The serenity of the landscape, so untouched by development, coupled with the constant sound of the passing road underneath. It's almost spiritual, practically lulling you into an alternate reality where the only thing that matters is where you're going and who you're going with.
This second journey from Oklahoma to California doesn't carry with it the storm cloud of confusing emotion and expectation as it did the last time. This time is simpler, quieter in a way (at least in my head). This, paired with the fact that I've learned a lot since the last time I drove this road leads me to a much more reflective state, where I'm able to listen more... Listen to stories about my family, where they came from, how they made it, and what they've lost and won along the way. I'm able to understand my own context in my family, where I've gone wrong, where I've been confused, and what I can contribute in the future. I ask questions, my mother answers them. She asks questions, I answer them. Like the rhythm of the road, our dialogue moves from Oklahoma, through New Mexico and into Arizona, from Arizona onto Los Angeles. And another 1500 miles later, I'm wiser. Definitely stronger. And filled with gratitude. Because it seems the more I learn about my family, the more I learn about how complicated life is. It seems for every mile from here to Oklahoma, there's something new one of us has had to overcome. But for every one of life's challenges, there are ten things most unmistakably beautiful.
Like my mother. When I think about my mother I cannot comprehend how I could ever be so blessed to have a woman like her as my very own mother. The blessing is not lost on me, so much so that I have thought to myself many times before things such as "how did I get so blessed? What did I do? What do I do with such a gift? How can I be worthy of such a blessing?."
The sobering reality is that I didn't do anything to gain such a wealth. It is, however, curious how revealing this is of my own humanity and incapacity to conceptualize divine and unconditional love. That I did not nor cannot do anything to win God's favor, but that I simply have it because he loves me. That he wants to show me that love more fully and has thus so lovingly chosen to do so by giving me a mother whose likeness I (at the age of 5 or 6) compared to the beauty of Barbie and exceeding that of cathedral stained-glass. Who has taught me every day what love in action looks like, A pure reflection of God's unconditional love. The fact that he requires nothing in return but loves us freely has proven a concept so disarming to humanity that we have killed each other over it... the idea that one does not have to be or do anything to be worthy of something so extraordinary.
As much as we like to tout love and acceptance these days, as a general rule it's a very conditional love and acceptance we're dishing out. Love in it's essence is an extremely simple thing. In order to be Love, it cannot exist under conditions. Conditional love ceases to be love, because it does not require sacrifice. At it's core love is sacrifice.
Hindsight is in fact 20/20... A cliche only because it's so true. Thinking back on nearly five years since having left home, I wonder what that moment in the red or purple carpeted room at The Hard Rock Hotel was like for my mother. I'll never completely know, but I can imagine. To have spent your days and many sleepless nights dreaming about, praying for, and loving a small human that is now much larger and willfully leaving you to do the exact thing you raised them to do... I cannot fathom what that feeling must have been. How it must have hurt like hell. What I also cannot imagine, but hope one day to have the selflessness to endure, is the sacrifice accompanying that pain.
My mother has never once made me feel guilty for leaving home, she has only encouraged. Not just that day, but the many after when the 1500 mile distance has felt almost suffocating. When life get's to be too much to handle in the big city, and you're one parking ticket away from being penniless. But that's who my mother has chosen to be: a person for other people. A choice she makes daily and a choice I am learning to make. The choice that I believe God is calling all of us towards, in spite of the accompanying sacrifices and potential for pain. To choose to live for others and pursue a life of meaning measured by the people whose lives we've put ahead of our our own.
When I am filled with hope for the future, it is by way of God's expansive and enduring love... A love he has made known to me in many ways, but by none so transforming as through the example of my family.
Happy Mother's Day Mom! Thank you for loving me... I love YOU!