Monday, March 7, 2011

Walking Olympia

I’m sitting at Traditions Fair Trade café in Olympia. I love this place, the multi-generational crowd it draws, a mixture of young students from Evergreen and aging hippies, peace activists, white-haired ladies and men. It brings back memories of the few years that I lived here and came often to drink a pot of tea and write, back when I was single and solitary and would walk for hours through this town by myself. When I lived on the Eastside I’d often walk down Legion, pass the old Armory, the school and ball field, the churches, while crunching on fallen leaves beneath the giant oaks. I’d visit the Japanese peace park, or go down by the marina and sit on the dock, or browse through Orca books and grab a bagel at Otto’s. But Traditions was the only place where I ever felt like a true regular, Traditions with Dick, the kindly and fierce, grandfatherly yet youthful owner, and Jodi, the smiling woman with short hair and glasses who’d always hand back your bills of change with two hands. Did I mention I love this place? It is not a place to hide behind hipster fashions and stay separate from others. It is a place to feel comfortable in your own skin. 

I was such a shy girl then. Afraid of being seen. Desperate to be seen. Afraid of being misinterpreted. And thus choosing to hide instead of risk disappointment. I was also such an intense girl. Steeped in tai chi and long solitary walks at Priest Point or in the Evergreen woods, or on long winding bike rides through town. Today, as I walked down the hill towards downtown from my mother-in-laws house, I felt a body-memory of that time in my life, that part of me that still lives inside even though she’s long been dormant. For a flash, I remembered in my senses what that felt like to be so alone, like I was then, waking and walking and searching for signs from the Universe on my own.

I was so sensitive back then, so attuned to my qi and the qi of others. It was hard for me to interact with strangers, especially men, or those with whom I was particularly enamored. Like Matthew, my future husband. He carried a quality of unattainablity to me then. Not only was he ‘taken’ and in a long-standing committed relationship, but he also seemed so rooted in who he was, so calm and confident in his skin, with eyes that would no doubt pierce through all my weak insecurities if I ever had a chance to let them. We worked at the same restaurant; he was the baker, I was a prep cook/busser/waitress/delivery driver. I didn’t know him well, but I always had a feeling about him, and once I even had a dream. Eventually, I allowed myself to wonder aloud in my journal one day: I wonder if we’ll be together one day…

Matthew, however, was oblivious to my crush and to my potential charms. He confessed later that he thought my energy a bit strange. I didn’t know then that he was born and raised here in town, that he loved goats and lived in a log cabin with an outhouse, that he was a butoh dancer and a bass player-- and that one day he’d be my husband. Our story of eventually coming together is too long to recount here, but if you’d told me then that some day we’d have a son together and live in Seattle, suffice it to say that I would have flipped out. Probably in gratitude and happiness. It would have been such a sweet relief to know that all the hard solitary work I was doing inside, all the exploration of my spiritual path and my writing path and how these intersected and were joined but not identical, would someday be redeemed with a sweet whispering affirmation from the gods, that yes indeed, some day in the not so distant future (what’s seven years?) I would be with a man whom I loved and felt fully seen by. Of course, we’d first have to go through a period in which I flirted dangerously with fear and doubt and almost fucked up our chance for good. We went through a period of drama, broke up a couple times, and quite possibly might not have found our way together again, in this life anyway—except that we were meant to after all. It wasn’t easy, as the best of relationships, the ones we learn and grow the most with, rarely are.

But anyway, where was I? Dick, the owner of Traditions, just walked by and said hello. It is sweetly comforting to still be remembered here, in this town, Olympia, where I spent six years of my life—three pre-Matthew and pre-China, and three post-China, with-Matthew. I’m grateful that Matthew’s family still lives here and so we have a reason to visit, even if our trips are hurried and I’m still tied to Cedar’s schedules. Yesterday we had a brief “date afternoon”—a walk at Priest Point, then a hot tub at Matthew’s moms. And today, Matthew skis with his brother while I write at Traditions and silently soak in a taste of the conversations and community around me. Maybe if I sit here long enough I will see someone else I recognize, even if the people I truly know in this town now are few. I never made many friends while I lived here. Even when I went to Evergreen, my friends were mostly the woods and the shoreline and the wind.

Now, as I write of this time in my life, it feels like a lifetime ago. It was another life I lived; I was a different person then. And now that I am the mother of Cedar, this feeling is only magnified. Yet I can still taste on a day like today what it once felt like to have all day, every day, to myself, to wander, to write, to read, to study, and to plan and worry about my future. To wonder what profession or career on earth might possibly contain the vast sense of what I wanted to do with my life—a feeling much too large and mythical for any clear rational answer. I can still taste this part of me, feel her inside of me, even if I am more grounded now, and less afraid.

Back then I thought it had to be all or nothing. Either dedicate my life to peace and the Tibetan freedom movement and Buddhism and writing, or be lost and sell out and turn my back on all I know is true. Back then, I was so lonely and confused. Back then, I was so pure in my intentions, so fresh, so translucent and blue.

I don’t have time to be a peace activist right now. At least not in the outward, traditional, or most obvious-- organizing, demonstrating, and petitioning sense. My peace activism, at least the place where I feel the most authentic and thus the most impacting in my actions, has always come from this meditative relationship I’ve cultivated with solitude, silence, and the page. The process of steadily growing and gaining confidence and authenticity in my voice has allowed me to become more authentic as a person, as a community member, as a human being engaged with others, learning from their activism, and sharing moments of my own. I knew this then too, but I didn’t trust it. I still thought I needed to be out there with the marchers and bullhorns. I doubted my own resistance to roles that weren’t cut for my skin.

Today, I am grateful for that girl, that twenty-something bud of a woman I once was, that girl who I’m still learning from, that girl whose igniting fire of spiritual inquiry, questioning, and aching persistent longing still teaches me right now. I don’t want to be as cloistered and solitary now as she was-- and I don’t imagine I’ll get a chance to be that solitary even if I wanted to be, at least not until I’m old and grey. But this much I know: she is still alive in me. She is the part of me that closes my eyes and inhales with a sense of gratitude and exhilaration as the wind blows across my face and the limbs sway overhead. And she is the part of me that still yearns to look each stranger in the eye as we pass on the street, and that remembers to nod with recognition and respect when I do.

Hello, friend. Hello, fellow wanderer. I see you. I know how much we all long to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. Catching up on my google reader feed, I read this just after I read your post. Somehow the two seemed to fit neatly together.



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