Living The Dream: Rocks And Hard Places
I once got married because even though my intuition said no, I was not strong enough to do what I was being told. In the journey that is my life, the shortest, most direct road through that area was designed to take a few months — long enough for me to discover this important part of my identity, integrate it, and ride on to the next big thing. But it was as if, when it came down to it, I didn’t have everything I needed to be who I was when I got to the other side. I wasn’t strong enough, secure enough, or well enough equipped to take my road.
Instead, I took an alternative route, a rather twisted one, that eventually deposited me to the exact same place where my road would have deposited me. The other road was much longer and far more dramatic. It was under construction the entire freaking time I was on it. And the other drivers on that road seemed to be at least a little off their main roads, too. And yet, this was the road considered the most “likely” or “promising” by most of society.
By the time I made it back to my road, I was stronger. I finally had everything I needed to be where I was, to continue on my way to a life that is true for me. But the other road is undeniably costly. In my case, there were years lost and hearts broken.
In hindsight, it’s tempting to think that taking the alternate route was a mistake, that if I’d been stronger, all of those hard (some might say bad) things wouldn’t have happened. But I resist that temptation for a few reasons. First, I know in my heart of hearts that I could not stay my course. I tried, really I did. Plain and simple, I didn’t have what I needed to get it done. Second, the alternate road gave me opportunities to live and heal and love (oh how I loved some of the companions on that road!) that were not available (nor were they necessary) on my road.
Because I was living fully awake during that part of my journey — giving my whole heart and folding every ounce of that experience into my being — it was everything it needed to be. That side trip transformed me, healing all of the old wounds that kept me from being able to live my truth. That spell of relative madness carried me home to myself. Although it was hard, and it cost me, anything that brings me home simply can’t be a “mistake.”
The tricky thing about these other road experiences, is that sometimes you can’t actually see that you’re not on your road until you start seeing signs that the road you’re on is ending, and you need to exit onto it to continue the journey.
Over the past week, we realized that my wife is having a pretty dramatic other road experience. Three weeks ago, we packed as many of her worldly goods as would fit in our very old, rather troubled Volvo station wagon and drove from our home in Nashville, Tennessee, to Los Angeles, California, to get her ready to begin law school. This was, we thought, a rather straightforward transition to the next leg of the journey.
Perhaps this would be a good place to offer a hint o’ background to help you understand how absolutely twisted this other road has become. She applied to several schools, some stellar ones spread across the country and a humble “safety school” in her city of choice, Los Angeles. Two schools declined, four schools placed her on their wait list, and three offered her admission. Of the offers she received early in the summer, the safety school offered her a full tuition scholarship, the second included a partial scholarship, and the third included no assistance.
These offers come with deadlines, and to accept them, you have to pay a large chunk of the seat deposit (a non-refundable commitment to get them to hold that seat for you). As the summer progresses, the balance of your seat deposit becomes due. This is very understandably to discourage students from keeping all of their offers on the table while they wait to see if someone “better” wants them.
Some students are able to pay all of the seat deposits throughout the summer to keep all of their options open until they’ve heard from everyone. We… how do I say this? Well, for today, we are — financially speaking — just not those people. She had to make some hard decisions. She spent hours (adding up to weeks) comparing everything from programs to climate to middle and high schools for the children (and about a million factors in between).
Because the location was very family-friendly, the one offering no financial aid was the most easily, although not necessarily happily, eliminated. There were plenty of perks and challenges to be had at each of the other two. We coughed up — with much creativity and some charity — a couple of hefty seat deposits to buy more time. There was absolutely no clear-cut choice. She researched and reported, churned and worried about it for weeks.
Finally, late one night, she whispered to me, “Since I can’t figure out which one I really want to say yes to, that I’m really excited about, I’m tempted to tell both of them no. I could just stay here until someone offers me a spot I want to accept.” Oh my, I thought, that’s bold as hell. The someones in question were the remaining wait list schools, UCLA and the University of Minnesota. They are top 20 schools. She is a now-44-year-old ex-postal worker who had just kicked all kinds of academic butt, but at a relatively unknown state university in middle Tennessee.
Until that moment, we’d held those two schools in a “it’s an honor to even be nominated” sort of light. She continued, “But if I did, I wouldn’t tell anyone because it’s crazy… they’ll think I’ve lost my mind. Who turns down a full scholarship to any law school and a good partial scholarship to another school to wait for one of the two wait list schools to come through, especially when it’s so unlikely on paper that they will? I don’t even know if I could stomach it.”
In the end, she committed to the humble safety school which offered her full tuition, a decent but somewhat constrained education that would make it possible for her to be the change, and the opportunity to live in the city she loves the most of any. Of course, it was not lost on anyone that her top choice (of all of the schools in the land from the time she was about four years old) was right down the street. If they said, “Come to UCLA!” at the last minute, she would be positioned perfectly to say yes. Even without them, aside from being away from her family for a year, she was pleased to be headed west.
We pooled every single conceivable resource to make this happen. There were angels everywhere — a super fabulous woman who offered to hold a fine, fine bachelor apartment for nothing more than a $500 good faith “pre-deposit” (which was exactly all that we were in a position to send when we found her super-safe, clean, charming building positioned almost exactly between the two schools and a brilliant location in its own right); the mother who gifted us deposit money and air conditioning for our drive through several 100+ degree states; the friends who in large part stocked our fund-raising yard sale; the other friends who gifted us $1,000 two days before we were supposed to leave and still didn’t have quite enough cash put together to meet our almost irresponsibly tight budget; the man at the auto parts store who, when the crisis light came on not even close to the end of our first day on the road, was still at work and tested the car and told us it was just a gas cap and we could keep going; the woman who owns a hotel in Tucumcari who, when I called in a panic that we were going to arrive after the office closed, told me not to worry because she’d just leave the door to our sweet, clean, perfect, $35 room open for us… and she’d see us at the espresso bar in the morning before we left… I swear, I could go on.
This trip took everything we had in us — emotionally, physically, financially, energetically, mentally – everything, but we got there, and we moved her in. We even found unexplainably affordable, high-quality furniture we needed. When we ran out of money, we’d wait for a few hours and some would appear. It was never tons but enough to get our dinner or the bed or a table. It was wild and crazy but it was happening, and we were making it. After two weeks, her nearly paralyzing back spasm finally released her so she could stand upright again.
Just over a week in, we were standing at the checkout of the Burbank, CA, IKEA, paying for the last couple of perfectly priced items, when Kristin looked at her phone and said, “The University of Minnesota just called.”
The very first thing that came to my mind was that late night conversation about being still and waiting for the dream. It was, it turns out, her very first thought, too, although we didn’t confess that for several hours. Strangely though, we found ourselves feeling just like we did on that night. There was a lease now, and a futon and groceries… and UCLA isn’t across the country. It’s down the freaking road! If it was hard to consider walking away from the UCLA wait list from Nashville, can you imagine walking away when you’re only 20 minutes away (or two hours, depending on L.A. traffic, which she also loves)?
And while UCLA saying yes felt a bit like a stretch two weeks ago, when this call came in, everything became possible again. As long as this story has been, I promise there is much I couldn’t bear to make you read. We were gifted the $750 to say yes to Minnesota. UCLA asked her to come in for an interview (and according to their website, they don’t actually “do” interviews). UCLA could have asked her to come as late as next week, while there’s a crazy expensive, time-sensitive journey to be had to leave L.A., which comes with the quandary of how to respectfully and responsibly leave her brand new lease with the angel lady. Oh, and did I mention that I had to fly home last Friday? Add the tears that came with that alone, along with the fact that what the two of us barely pulled off getting there now has to be executed by her alone. Cost/benefit analysis is pointless, because all the lists seem endless.
Once again, it is tempting to think that taking the alternate route was a mistake, that if she’d been stronger, more confident in her own intuition, all of those hard (some might say bad) things wouldn’t have happened. But she must resist that temptation for a few reasons. First, hopefully she knows in her heart of hearts that she could not stay the course. She tried. Plain and simple, she didn’t have what she needed — the foresight or security or clarity or whatever… evidence — to get it done. Second, the alternate route gave her opportunities to live and heal and love (oh how I loved being her companion on that road!) that were not available (nor were they necessary) on her “my road.”
Yesterday, she asked UCLA to remove her from their wait list. She simply could not bear to do what needs to be done to accept this extraordinary invitation from Minnesota and have UCLA call next week, and she couldn’t bear to let another gift — the Minnesota seat deposit — be fruitless. Minnesota is a prize in law-school context, and she wanted it to have the chance to feel like it, instead of feeling like another compromise, even though she didn’t even bring a jacket with her. Maybe this is her finally making her way back to her road, and maybe it’s her taking another crazy adventure that this time next year deposits her back at UCLA. Honestly, we don’t know, yet she’s made some bold and hard choices, trying always to heed her lessons and fully aware of the costs of fear and the potential promise of the unknown and uncomfortable.
In fact, that’s my entire point: Nobody knows — until it’s over — whether they are on their my road or their other road. We do our best with what we have to work with — our resources, intuition, and the support of our loving community. If it’s the quick road, awesome. That certainly has its perks. But if it’s not, we can still be headed where we need to go. We can still going to be strong enough to be there when we get there. If you can, listen to the whispers, even when they don’t “add up.” But if you miss a few, don’t give up, and don’t stop listening.
What is most clear to me today is that we can’t sit around waiting for the clarity of the end before we ever begin.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about living the dream and making many adjustments in my life to better understand funding the dream (more on that in a week or so), and through all of it, I’ve realized that living the dream isn’t about being at a dreamy destination. It’s about the way we live every single day.
Living the dream, Wild One, is simply a state of mind.
The mystery is high today. Just keep walking, one thoughtful step at a time, as the path unfolds before you. Living the dream simply means that you journey wide awake to a destination called Truth. Dance along to the rhythm that rises up within you, and make music with the rhythms of the brothers and sisters who share this path.
If you need direction, call on Love… And remember to breathe, Wild One.
*Image credit, humble gratitude, and a ten-fold IOU to The Squidbag whose graphic badassery is the only thing that rivals truly mad blogging skills.