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Driving Lessons

It's been while since I've written. The words have been slow to come this year. Creativity moves like the weather, and the weather's been undeniably strange for the past several months. This post is about that.

The whole time we were in Kauai, we weren’t sure which car was ours. It was an accident turned comedy routine. The first time, at the airport, we rolled our bags to the designated rental car and opened the trunk. It lifted in slow-motion. Suitcases piled high, a stroller perched on top, then five faces, eyes wide, turned backward to stare at us. “This is not our car,” I said.

The whole time were in Kauai, it rained and rained and rained. Not a warm, wet tropical blanket of rain dripping peacefully from the umbrella sized taro leaves. This rain was a soaked sheet tossed up and down and sideways in the wind. As though the ocean had reared up from her bed and taken to the sky. Wave after wave crashing down from above, relentless.

The rain pebbled the glass windows with such ferocity I kept expecting them to crack. Late nights, hot white threads of lightening shivered over the wild ocean and thunder knuckled the walls of the house. The wind gripped the shingles and flung them one by one into the sky. Behind the shaking walls, I kept dreaming I was not in a house at all, but in a boat lost at sea.

In storms like that, any car will do. Another morning, when we climbed into the car, Deb said, “Oh look, we have an umbrella.” Our annual trip to Kauai is a kind of creative pilgrimage. We don’t always know what we’ll find when we’re there, but we trust it will be what we need. So the umbrella seemed, for a moment, entirely serendipitous. Until we realized: neither of us brought an umbrella. It was someone else’s umbrella, in someone else’s car. After that incident, we started looking closely before we climbed into the car. Peering through every window to see if our belongings were inside.

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship,” wrote Louisa May Alcott. Ancient Polynesian Wayfinders sailed thousands miles from island to island in double-hulled canoes. Months of journeying over open ocean, through storms that blackened the sky and made skyscrapers out of the waves. The stars were their map, but sometimes they were buried behind clouds. The ocean was their compass, but sometimes the needle spun this way and that. Still, they were not afraid. They knew the weather would clear and they would find the way again. What was required was patience. Patience, and trust—trust that the storm would clear. Trust that they knew how to sail the ship.

“Look,” I said, laughing through the living room window. “Someone left their car doors hanging open. It’s going to be soaked in there.” It was funny because that’s what the aloha-bliss of a Hawaiian vacation can do to a person. “Should we go out and close them?” Deb asked. Just then, the downpour thickened. “No,” I said. “Some people just have to learn the hard way.” The next morning, we realized: it was our car. Our doors left hanging open, inviting the storm inside. Our hard way to learn.

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life,” wrote Paulo Coelho, “some come to clear your path.” I thought maybe this was what the universe had decided I needed. A clearing of the path. Along the beach, someone constructed billboard-sized letters out of driftwood: Aloha, it spelled. Meaning hello, and goodbye. Meaning arrival, and departure. Meaning beginnings, and endings. The next day, the storm had swallowed that too. Only a scattering of sticks upon the sand remained. A ruin of in-between, something lost and not yet rearranged.

“Enough of the storms. My path is clear,” I said when I woke up that final morning in Kauai. I was wrong, but I needed to say it anyways. We knew our car was our car because when we opened the trunk, it was our baggage inside, and because the seats were still damp and squished slightly when we settled in.

On a pilgrimage, your eyes are open to meaning in whatever form it takes. You seek signs and symbols, metaphors and messages. Even when the vacation was over, the pilgrimage was not. Back home, the storms were relentless. We were pounded by a endless ribbon of atmospheric rivers. Creeks filled. Waterfalls broke over dusty cliff ledges. Mud slumped along the eaves of the canyons. Day after day, week after week. Rain. More rain. Rain again. Grey sky, heavy fog. Torrential downpour. Even, for a single deranged week, snow.

Throughout, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still in somebody else’s car. Under someone else’s sky, with someone else’s weather seeping through. I had no umbrella. I had left the doors wide open for the whole world to enter. I was a ship still learning to sail, a car lost in a parking lot, a ruin of in-between. I kept peering through every window looking for clues of belonging and finding only what belonged to others inside.

Here's the thing:

When I say car, I might as well say purpose. When I say storm, I might as well say lost-ness.

Which is to say, the whole time we were in Kauai, we weren’t sure which purpose was ours. The whole time we were in Kauai, lost-ness poured down from the sky. The trip was a start to a particular chapter and the journey continued, has been continuing, in all the months since. No maps, no compasses, no guiding stars. Just the roiling ocean, just the obscured sky, just a ship I'm still learning to sail and a path the storm, I trust, will clear.

I'm still learning the hard way, but at least I've got this lesson down:

Nothing forces you to find your own car (purpose) faster than climbing into somebody else's.

And this, too:

Sometimes, it's the storms (lost-ness) that make you feel the most alive.

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