How Did I Get Here?


Paul and I took a couple of days off this week. Well, truthfully, he took a couple of days off. Since the onset of the Covid disaster, I have mostly had my days free. But he’s been working as a therapist in a time of universal angst, and he was very tired.

We decided to take a couple of days and travel up into the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the National Forest Campground where Paul and his family have spent vacations since the 1920s.

While Paul grew up with a love of these mountains, and a passion of camping at their feet, I came to that life in my late teens. Truthfully, I had never camped in my life until I decided that this very cute guy was worth the bugs, the rain, the cold nights and the burned food.

Needless to say, I learned to camp. In fact, I learned to camp at Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest. I learned to pitch a tent. And to cook outside. And to bathe my little ones in a rubber bucket. I learned to lock up the food so the bears wouldn’t get it. And to wash my hair in a bucket of water warmed over the camp stove.

And the years went by. My kids love camping, and hiking. They love Dolly Copp Campground so much. Our extended family has a reunion up there every year. That campground is where I felt the movement of my first baby in my womb. It is where that same baby went into early labor and was rushed off the hospital to have her own daughter, with me at her side. Dolly Copp campground is where my boys learned to fish, and where they learned the sorrow that came with killing another being in order to eat.

We swam in the river that runs through the campground. We made s’more. We sang around the fires. Our little family has so many, many good memories of that place.

And Paul and I went there to camp last night. Only one night, but it was filled with memories and peace and laughter.

This morning, very early, I found myself in the campground’s bathroom. An updated, modern, clean version of the little spaces where I’d dressed my kids so many times.

I looked into the mirror, and I saw my 64 year old self. Not the hopeful, eager young 19 year old girl who first followed her future mate to this place, but the gray, wrinkled, slightly wilted version of that girl.

“I’m 64.” I said out loud. “How did this happen?”

I expected to feel sad, but you know what? Something beautiful happened.

As I stood there, looking at my aging self, I heard a sudden unexpected voice answering my question.

“It happened because for the past 40 plus years, you’ve been busy.

In that time,” the voice told me, “You’ve graduated from college, learned what you wanted to do with you life, achieved a Master’s degree and embarked on a rich and rewarding career.”

I looked back at the image in the mirror, remembering every misstep and every failed moment.

But the voice from my heart continued, “You’ve learned how to teach. And you’ve been a teacher. You have touched the lives of many many children, in ways that you won’t ever know. You have reassured parents, encouraged kids, supported them on their journeys. The years passed because you were busy. You were growing and you were doing good.”

I thought of the kids I’ve loved and taught over the years. The kids who are my Facebook friends, my real life friends, my warmest memories. “OK”, I thought, “I get it.”

But the voice wasn’t done.

“And you’ve raised three kids. Three adults who are healthy and joyful and loving.”

I looked back at my face in the mirror. I saw a mother. A teacher. A sister, a friend, a wife, a daughter.

I saw a life well lived.

“OK”, I said, nodding to my own old self, “OK. I’m 64 years old, and it isn’t a surprise. How did I get here? I got here on my own winding but worthwhile path.”

Really, what more could any of us ask of this life?

The Wintry Sun


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She was standing alone, leaning on a black metal cane.  She was small, thin, not quite fragile, and supremely alert.  She watched us with obvious interest as we slowly drove down the bumpy drive toward the old gray house.

We stopped the car, and I got out.  We had driven past an empty horse paddock, outlined with worn split rails.  Both of us had chuckled at the hand painted sign that stood along the driveway: “Caution: deaf dogs”.  There was a battered three sided garage on the left, filled with broken farm implements, part of a tractor, and a blue four door sedan bearing the bumper sticker “War is not healthy: Sick of it yet?”

I smiled broadly as I stepped out of the car.  The old woman watched me with interest, her wrists crossed on the top of the cane.

“Hi!’, I called. “We’re with the Bernie Sanders campaign.  We are looking for Diana?”

She nodded, but didn’t smile. “That’s me.”

“Oh, good!  Hi!”, I repeated, stepping closer.

She was slim, almost gaunt.  Her hair was dyed a bright orange/red that made me think of henna, cut short and straight.  She wore dark blue plastic framed glasses, but her eyes were bright behind them.

“I’m enjoying the sunshine”, she told me happily.  There was snow on the ground, but the air was warm and the February sun very bright.  The sound of dripping came from every part of the tin roof behind her.

Diana wore a faded yellow sweater over a pair of denim overalls.  Brown leather boots were on her feet.

She still hadn’t smiled, but I forged ahead with my mission to “Get Out the Vote for Bernie”.

“I want to make sure that you know about the primary election on Tuesday, and I hope that you’re still planning to vote for Senator Sanders.”

She nodded her head vigorously. “Oh, yes, I’m pulling a ballot for Bernie”, she stated firmly.  “Isn’t it all just the most ridiculous show this year?”

I smiled my agreement, noting her British accent and wondering how long she’d been in this country.

“That Trump”, she snorted, “I can’t even imagine! What a lot of nonsense.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the election, sharing our stories of mingled horror and amusement over what we had been seeing.  As I gently asked her how committed she was to voting, and reminded her of her polling place and time, I noticed a hand written sign on the rusty storm door of the house. “Please do not let the big white dog outside.  She is blind.”

A beautiful gray and orange cat sat behind the glass, watching me with bright yellow eyes.

“We run a sort of assisted living place for old animals”, Diana stated when she saw me looking.  “We have an old pony, two deaf dogs and one blind one, and two old cats.”

At last she smiled, a mischievous grin that lit her round face. “And my husband and I, too, of course.”  She lifted her left wrist, showing me a black brace. “I tripped on a board in the barn.  Broke two bones.”

We smiled at each other for a moment, then she tilted her face back toward the sun. “I’m just enjoying the sunshine”, she said again, “I don’t dare go too far, you know? I don’t dare tumble again.”

She lowered her head to look at me once more. “But I’ll be out to vote for Bernie on Tuesday, as long as it isn’t too snowy. I was from England”, she said, “But now I vote in America.”

She straightened a bit, looking toward my parked car.  “And who is your driver, dear?”, she asked me.

“That’s my son, Matt”, I answered. “Keeping me company.”

“And he’s a Bernie man?  Bless his heart!”

We chatted for a few more minutes, with the melting snow pattering down from the eaves behind us.  It was a beautiful spot, surrounded by pine trees and snowy fields.  The sun was warm.

I don’t know if we managed to garner a single vote for Senator Sanders today, but it was well worth the long drive and the time spent walking in the snowy streets of New Hampshire.   It was worth it to have met Diana and to share her great pleasure at standing in the late winter sunshine today.