Nevada Skies

We left Kippetje (did I tell you guys that we finally settled on a true name for our sweet little camper home? Kippetje- or Kippee for short- means “little chicken” in Dutch and it just feels right…now if we could just come up with the right name for our truck…) parked rather forlornly in the sandy side lot of a friend’s home in the desert east of Reno. We tried not to look back at the rearview mirror as we pulled away, Kippee’s light blue sides peeking out beyond the fence accusingly. It just felt so wrong to abandon her like this, to leave her in the hands of near strangers for months under the desert sun. 

I thought momentarily of the scene in the book Love With A Chance Of Drowning where they return to their stored sailboat to find that their canned goods had exploded at some point over the months and that their home was covered in unlivable filth. It was with that scene in mind that I’d scoured the camper for anything that might freeze or attract critters or otherwise not survive storage well, but as we drove away from Kippee, I worried again that I’d missed something, that we would return to her in February to irreparable damage. And the truth is, we just might. Things happen…the temperature variations in the desert and the intermittent sandstorms, the small creatures adept at squeezing through tiny gaps to find shelter, the simple neglect of sitting unused for nearly 5 months…it seems more likely than not that something will be in need of repair when we resume camper life. I have to fight the urge to worry, to call the friends storing her and ask for updates, to attempt to control all outcomes from my perch 3,000 miles away.

But this has been part of my work since we made the choice to sell our home in Maine, possibly my most important work. Learning to let go. Understanding on a visceral level the realities of impermanence and non-attachment. On some level, that understanding resides deep in my gut- one simply cannot survive cancer without having come face-to-face with the unavoidable truth of one’s own intrinsic impermanence. My nature, however, inclines me to hold on tightly-often too tightly- to people, to things, to ideas. It is my lifelong struggle to know when to pry my fingers, one white-knuckled digit at a time, from gripping the people and things I love with all of my might. There is some beauty in that grip, the fierceness with which I love my people often pulls the best parts of me to the surface, allows me to rise to be the friend, partner, sister, daughter that I aspire to be, to truly show up even when it’s hard, to support them even in the face of my own pain or grief. However, I would be lying not to admit that a big part of that grip stems directly out of a place of fear, the innate and primal terror of inevitable loss, and we all know that that sort of grip is stifling and unhealthy and tends not to serve anyone well.

Our choice to sell our home or relinquish most of our possessions is, by no means, the same letting go that is required when we lose a loved one. But I think of it as a step toward learning to make peace with change and the inevitable losses that balance the gains. The minimalism movement talks ad nauseum about the freedom that comes with ridding yourself of possessions. And sure, to some extent that’s obviously true (our journey would certainly be more complicated if we were trying to do this while also dealing with the expense and responsibility of storing our possessions or renting out our home). But I wish more of the folks leading that movement would talk a bit more about how damn hard that can be, how if you’ve already done the work of paring down the clear excesses in your life, letting go of more is truly heart-wrenching. I remember a conversation I had with a “hard-core” minimalist as we were beginning to set aside the minuscule percentage of our belongings to store while we journeyed. I commented that I obviously was going to keep and store my family photos and papers, things like my great-great-grandparents’ marriage certificate and the sepia toned images of my grandmother as a wide-eyed girl. My acquaintance made the dismissive remark that I’d get over that, to just scan them in and send the hard copies to the dump. I just stared at her in disbelief for a good long minute before likely saying something snarky about us clearly operating very differently. Some “things” are not really “things” at all. The brittle paper of that marriage certificate is hardly the point. It’s the faded ink of the signatures, the record of how their hands moved across the paper when they were so very young and strong, how the story of these humans I’ve never met leads directly to my own. That little rectangle of paper connects me to them with all of my senses- the feel of that fragile paper and its creases where it was stored in an envelope, the musty scent, the variation in the fountain pen ink, the small water stain in one corner, the ornate typeface that echoes of how things were done before computers or typewriters, the simple ability to touch and smell the very same piece of paper that they did so very many years ago. A scanned version simply wouldn’t do, wouldn’t affect me in the same way. I’m pragmatic, of course, and have scanned them all in, but that is for back-up, for safekeeping, not license to destroy my history. I’m digressing here (it’s hard to resist a tangent about minimalism or history…subjects on whose discourse I could spend days at a time), but the point is that with each step of this journey I have been faced with letting go of things I cherished, everything from furniture that Justin and I built together to my favorite teapot to my plants to the home and community that I just loved. Each time I bargained and tried to work around the letting go, gave the list of reasons that this one thing got to stay. And almost each time, I would eventually circle around to the truth that while I could justify hanging on and that there were good, valid reasons for doing just that, the cost would be too great- either directly interfering with the choice we’d made to journey or edging out other items that were more important to me.

And that has been at the heart of this learning to let go. It’s rarely a choice between a thing/experience/person that I want and one that I don’t. It’s learning to choose between the many things that are wonderful, the many things that I want with all my heart, of choosing what takes priority. I chose to let go of our home entirely and experience the uncertainty and fear and “all in” mentality of traveling without that safety net to return to. I miss it often, and the loss strikes me unexpectedly sometimes in such a punch-in-the-gut sort of way. But we would not have had the year that we’ve had nor the future we’re planning if we hadn’t let go and I can’t bring myself to regret the choice. We could have rented a large storage unit to hold all of our belongings while we traveled and I know that when we next make a more permanent home, I will be cursing having let go of some of what we will buy again. But even beyond the freedom from the financial burden that storage would have entailed, I grew tremendously from prying that death grip from my belongings and fully grasping the space it allowed for us to have this time be a true new beginning, to embark on a new era in our lives unencumbered by the trappings of the last one. 

As we drove away from Kippetje and left her well-being in hands not our own, my inherent resistance both amused and bemused me. How many times and how many ways must I learn the same lessons? We do what we can, we prepare and we do our work and we control the controllables. And at some point, things change or the unexpected happens or some factor that we hadn’t considered comes into play, and we get outcomes different from what we’d hoped or planned for. There is simply no escaping. Nothing is permanent. Why is it so impossible to fully grasp this? Not people, not belongings, not situations, not who we are or what is important to us. If we arrive at our friends’ house in February to find some kind of major issue with Kippee, well...we’ll figure it out. The me of just a few short years ago would never have been able to say that and really mean it. But after a year and a half of practice at letting go of all kinds of things I thought I couldn’t live without (my own shower, clear daily structure, workspace, etc), I recognize that this is just the truth of life in general. Prepare as best we can, make the best choices we can with the information we have, and then figure it out when things go awry. I will still worry for our little home here and there, but I can see ever more clearly how worry often creates a barrier that prevents me from fully engaging where I actually am. If I’m worrying about Kippee, then I’m mentally somewhere in Nevada expending energy to deal with things that haven’t actually come to pass, existing in some bizarre fantasyland, rather than being right here where I am dealing with what is actually happening around me, expending energy on the goals and projects and people that are real.

I suspect this won’t be the last time I dive into this work of letting go. Hell, it’s likely not the last time today that I work on it. And that’s okay, really. This is the work of life, after all, this learning how to love and be loved, how to stretch ourselves, how to set aside our egos and still make good use of our gifts, how to balance our lives in relationship to others, how to fight when a fight is what’s called for, how to release when it’s time to let go. It’s work that we must come back to over and over, circle around it to see all of the angles, crack ourselves open as we search for honesty and truth under layers of story and fear and vulnerability. It’s real work, true work. 

And so we turned away from Kippetje, from the rearview mirror for a bit, and looked out at the road before us, at the two lanes winding east under broad blue skies. Nevada isn’t a good place to hide. There’s no cover on those golden hills, nowhere to tuck away behind self-deception or doubt. As we aimed the truck toward Idaho and set the cruise control too fast, the cotton clouds rolled up into formation and we rolled the windows down, allowing that desert wind to set our hair flying as our outstretched hands rode the currents.

Forward, friends, under these Nevada skies.