On a whim, I drive to BigCity, NC for meditation. The long drive is usually reserved for Sundays, because there is a two hour meditation session as opposed to the one hour session on weeknights.
The advantage to weeknights, however, is that folks have a tradition of going out to the bar afterwards for a drink. In my rural dry county (surrounded by two other dry counties), this is unheard of. Two cars of people drive to the bar, but Keller and I walk, preferring the cold air and the chance to move our limbs a bit after sixty minutes of sitting on the cushion.
When he’s really concentrating, Keller’s bottom lip pouts out in a near frown. When I first met him, it was hard for me to tell if he was sad or just listening. I soon learned that his warm smile and easy-going manner contradict the pouty lip and the man is actually quite chipper. We walk briskly for one mile to the pub, chatting along the way about our respective backgrounds, chuckling about the oddities of the South, sharing equal awe for the Blue Ridge Mountains and biodiversity in the region.
My first thought when we walk into the bar is: This is what my life could be like if I lived in the city. My second thought is: I’m glad I don’t.
Of course, the pub we’re at is my second favorite in BigCity but still, Keller has to put earplugs in to drown out the cover band and the place is still packed when we leave after 11 p.m. I saw more people tonight that I’ve seen in the last two weeks combined (and that was still less than most people see at the office in one day!). This flip-flop of worlds is both a fascinating and overwhelming experience, but one I’ve grown accustomed to.
When I was in high school, sometimes my father and I would meet for lunch in downtown Portland and share a meal in near silence in order to fully enjoy the magic of people-watching. Ordinarily, I come away from nights at the bar with a mélange of faces, images, quotes, smells, and sounds. But tonight, Keller has my full attention and I am reeled in.
We talk skiing, snowboarding, running, backpacking, mandolin, banjo. He mentions wilderness therapy. I mention trail crews. We talk Idaho, Sawtooths, Bitterroots, unemployment, rent-free living, and car accidents. Before I know it the others are ready to leave and we are offered a ride back to the meditation center where our cars are parked.
Without flinching, it is agreed that we would prefer to walk one mile back to the cars. Further plans are made for next week. I take mental note of my own calmness, my lack of hype and false precepts. Still feeling rather settled from last week’s acupuncture treatment, I am able to take one day at a time with this and see what unwinds. It helps, also, to have the gentle advice of friends. There have been emails with Keller this week, yes, but those too have been mediated by a sort of tender-heart boundary that I’ve set up. I don’t feel as reaching or exhausted anymore by all of this. In fact, I don’t even feel “all of this” in the same sort of dredging way. There is a lightness here.
On the way home, it occurs to me that I really like being alone and having the freedom to make independent choices about my day-to-day living. The thought almost astonishes me and I actually laugh out loud to myself. But still…that hand-knitted striped wool hat from Ireland that he wears, and his soft eyes, and the ties to my homeland out West. Hmmmmm…