Summer’s Gift

So fellow travelers, it took a Fire Dragon who appeared in the sky after a powerful thunderstorm,

daring me to chase the sunset, to shake off the sadness of this passing of an extraordinary summer of adventures. As I ran through wet grass and puddles in the street words tumbled out in to this haiku~

Summer adventures

Joy ignited heart and soul

Forever ablaze

Time to welcome a new season of discovery.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

The Mom on the Southbound Train

So fellow travelers, reflecting on the many memorable moments which graced my week with this new found community, I could write posts for days to come.

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Who could ask for S’more than roasting marshmallows after the beach dinner concert?

There is the story of  the dog who came  to the movies, the fan who would have surfed from China, the girl with the grammy, the follower who took a leap of faith, the team who would not be beaten and then there is the  Mom on the Southbound train~

 

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This last title references a unique friendship which blossomed during my time in Oceanside. While waiting for my photo op with the band, I started talking to some of the people in the lobby and discovered one of them was staying at the same hotel.

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This moment of serendipity set in motion several chances to travel to and from various activties together throughout the week. Since I had a rental car and we were staying at the same hotel it just made sense to me to have Linda ride along to any of the events we would both be at.  She was a really good sport about my not-so-good driving; the rental car, which I nicknamed the Velociraptor* for the jolting surprise of it’s aggressively responsive brakes, had the distinction of the worst visibility of any car I have ever driven.  Those are two combinations not condusive to smooth cruising along narrow, winding Highway 101. Perhaps the scenic views made up for the carnival ride effect of me vs Velociraptor.

Linda and I got along so well, by the end of the week we had a routine down. We met in the hotel breakfast room (where the staff and many guests were captivated by the World Cup Soccer Games~ “Ve ve Mexico!”) and made plans on when to meet up for that day’s band activity and whatever else we might want to do together or on our own.  During our adventures I found out this trip was filled with many firsts for my new friend Linda, including her first plane trip but not her first Switchfoot show.  Linda had taken her kids to many concerts and this getaway week was a thank you gift from her son and daughter for all she had done for them as a hard working single mom when they were growing up.

Often we would look at each other and ask ourselves- “Wow, is this all really happening?” because we both found the whole experience truly uplifting and more than a little mind blowing. Neither of us knew what to expect from the getaway weekend events and we certainly never expected to connect so easily and personally with not only with the guys in the band and their phenomenal support staff but also with so many different people. From the young woman who traveled all the way from China, the fun loving parents of little sweet Millie Grace the chihuahua (who now has many fans of her own) to the bright young independent film maker pursuing dreams of her own, every day Linda and I would share stories after each activity of the people we met and the connections we made. Always we would come back to the miracle moment of our own meeting.

It was,I think, as Mom’s that Linda and I initially related to each other. Our kids are in the same age range, all in their twenties and as siblings go, very different from each other. Our desire to be supportive, while allowing them to be true to their selves and also shared emotions of how hard and sometimes scary it is to let go. I deeply admire her strength and dedication; raising two kids on your own is a great challenge in our society which lacks consistent committment to assist single parents.  Here too, in sharing our life challenges, we resonated deeply on the inspiration we drew from Switchfoot’s music through the years.

The morning we were both heading our separate ways- she back home and I on my next adventure in Joshua Tree National Park, I offered to drive her to the station so she could catch the train to San Diego.  I told Linda I had no specific timeframe for heading out of town and was more than happy to be able to help her with one last ride. In fact, I wanted to see her off safely on her way, as I would have for any good friend, because after all we were now solidly quite good friends.

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After her train left, I drove into town to have breakfast at a diner Linda recommended.  The song which came up on the Spotify playlist I had created for the Bro-AM weekend was Jon Foreman’s SouthBound Train.  I had to pull over and let the tears of pure gratitude flow because I knew of the many blessings I had been granted during this week, the gift of a new friend was the unexpected treasure, a form of grace I never expected to receive.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Postscript: Jon’s peformance of Southbound Train during his phenomenal 25in24 event is one of my favorite versions. Do take a few minutes to fill your soul and watch.

*The rental was actually a Hyundai Veloster. Suffice to say it’s unlikely I will ever own or voluntarily drive one again.

 

 

 

The Diner at the End of the Pier

So fellow travelers, traveling solo there are moments when the reality of being alone washes over you.  Eating in restaurants as a single patron is one of those times, so finding a spot with a welcoming vibe is a blessing.

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Eggs on toast done right

Comforts of home with a view

Diners are a gift.

 

Nothing feels like “home” more than a good diner. To find one at the beginning of my week was a good omen. Oh and I kid you not,my waiter’s name was Jesus.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

 

The Fan with the Switchfoot Sneakers

We play music because we love it, but we also play music because we want to see things change… within ourselves and in the world around us. These are songs of hope and new beginnings, and we’re always trying to get better at living that out.” Tim Foreman Stories Behind the Songs: Vessel Bags Interview April 14, 2016

So fellow travelers, those moments when a new acquaintance says or does something and you both feel the “click” of Inner Spirits connecting and you know you have found another member of your tribe.

Linda V. fellow Friend of the Foot taking in the ocean view

I have written about them before and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be writing about them again. Of all the bright, fun filled experiences in Oceanside, it was the always the moments of personal connection which brought the most joy.

Not long ago, when reflecting on the changes retirement and relocation will bring, I realized how much farther I would be traveling to get to family events or periodic gatherings with my creative tribemates and how much I would miss my phenomenal support team of friends at work

37630Toasting the last day of the year (the mugs say it all)

At every event during the Switchfoot Getaway I found connections and made new friends. Whether we were surfing, sharing meals or participating in a service project, over and over again the theme of community emerged. We extended beyond fellow fans and grew into a family.

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All photos courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway2018*

At the registration photo op** with the band, when they commented on my “cool” sneakers and I mentioned I wore them because I thought they looked like “Switchfoot sneakers” to me, it was a remarkable moment to connect and tell each of them how significant their music has been while I walk this path of seeking Light.

And the week was only just getting started~

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

*Photos from various events are provided by the Switchfoot Getaway 2018 team and used with permission.

** When I first saw my band photo, I was surprised I don’t seem to be smiling.  On closer inspection I saw it actually captures the look I get when I hold my breath as I feel a wave of absolute joy washing over me. It happened several times a day on this trip.

Coasting

So fellow travelers, grab some sunscreen and a towel, we are going to the beach!

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There is something sacred embedded in that moment of catching a first glimpse of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, that first glimpse came while riding the Coaster, a local train which runs between San Diego and Oceanside. The train is a local icon; numerous residents I met spoke of how much their kids/grandkids loved to ride it. Jon Foreman has song in his repertoire called Southbound Train, it ran as a continuous loop in my head while I took in the scenery up to Oceanside.

Those moments of sacred connection would manifest in unexpected ways through my week on the coast.

 

Blessings and grace beyond anything I could have anticipated or dared to expect.

Bookends

So fellow travelers, today marks the start of a new solar year in this grand adventure of life. Reflecting on the bookends of the first and last days

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Team Fairbanks-Rahalski at the summit of Pinnacle Peak Trail in Rainier National Park

I can see the origami of insights and growth created by the challenges weathered in-between two foundations: friends and family. As I embark fullspeed into the coming years of this sixth decade of solar returns I have my sights set on the adventures made possible by that foundation.

The road we travel

is made lighter by the Love

carried in our hearts

To all the beautiful points of Light in my community of family and friends here is a heartfelt haiku of gratitude for the love and support which has and will continue to bless my journey. You are the best gift anyone could ever receive.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Listen

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout. Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks*!” King Lear Act 3 Scene 2 

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So fellow travelers, like many of my creative tribemates I write to process my experiences.  Yet, sometimes our experiences overwhelm our capacity to express what we feel.  Raging storms of emotions inundate the landmarks which guide us on our journey; chaos threatens to consume the weathervane* compass points we rely on to help us find our way.  If we cannot find ways to express what we feel, we will drown in our emotions or, worse yet, become so numb we move through life like the walking dead.

In those times, music and art can become the life lines which guide us back. This is the backstory of how I found the music which kept me afloat when swells of chaos and confusion threatened to engulf me and pull me under.

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When Favorite Oldest Daughter was a teenager, she used to make me playlists of music. This being back in the times before kids were perpetually hooked into their earbuds I could actually hear what she was listening to when she worked on the desktop computer in the family room. When there was a song she listened to often I would ask her to put it on one of the CDs she made for me. This is how I first heard the song 24 written by Jon Foreman**.

To this day the song moves me to tears; they maybe tears of loss, regret, confusion, relief, or happiness, yet most often they are tears of deep abiding gratitude.

When I listen to Jon’s music, whether it is from one of Switchfoot’s ten albums or a solo project like Wonderlands which created the 25in24 project no matter what state I am in, the emotion which inevitably rises to the surface is gratitude. Gratitude for glimmers of hope in times of doubt, for grace in times of failing, for healing in times of suffering even for humor to wake me from the hell of taking everything including myself far too seriously.

For over a decade now this music has been a Presence on my journey. At first a background harmony, then after my first Switchfoot concert experience (NYState Fair Chevy Court, August 23, 2009) a balance point during unsettled times and finally, in the past four years, a life raft carrying me through the tsunami of changes happening in and around me.

Since my first live experience in 2009 I have felt these musicans are more than a band and I have gone to as many shows as possible which came within a days driving distance. I have done meet and greet sessions with the band and Jon (who does tours of his solo projects) not because I am star struck but to have an opportunity to thank them for the gift of their songs, for being the ones who put words and rhythm and harmonies to the emotions I felt so deeply yet did not understand or could not find ways to express.

But there was one live experience I knew of, which I had not found a way to get to,

yet

so, when the chaos at work began to escalate and I needed set a Light to reach for I put a plan in place find my way to Bro-Am 2018

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(to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

**listen to 24 by Jon Foreman on Switchfoot’s 4th album The Beautiful Letdown here

Push to the Finish Line

So fellow travelers, returning home from the Verdi road trip I received an enthusiastic greeting from my devoted trail companion Ms Delilah

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Granted I am blessed to be greeted in a similar manner when I come in from a trip to the grocery store. A greeting shorter in duration with less yapping perhaps, but just as effective at refueling my heart with the glow of unconditional love dogs radiate into our lives.

Delilah has been a placeholder for love and acceptance through the recent challenges of my journey. Whether I  arrived home and immediately grabbed a leash to head for a mind clearing walk or collapsed on the couch under the weight of incomprehensible stress, Delilah followed the cues. She even learned to gently nudge me awake so those naps did not stretch out to interfere with deeper sleep I would need later.

Because of the confidential nature of my work with special ed. students at our local high school it is not possible for me (at least not at this time) to detail the specifics of what our team was dealing with.  Suffice to say, there were connected situations which had been evolving for two years which had reached a point of tremendous concern for the team I was on.  What was most disconcerting was the struggle we faced trying to have those concerns heard by people in a position to address the issues. In my nineteen years working with students of diverse needs and abilities from elementary through high school I had never experienced anything like what we were being asked to tolerate as acceptable for our students as well as our teaching team and support staff.

20180626_131101Mural in Artists Alley Oceanside CA

I found myself asking  how long does one remain in a setting where it no longer seems possible to make a difference?

When you follow every protocol and send clear, well documented reports that help is needed and the response is dismissive, when you hear the policy statements about the importance of mental health but see nothing done when a crisis point is reached repeatedly, when you hear and are told to teach the message “if you see something, say something,” and you do say something, day after day, but it results in no actions, how long beyond these tipping points do you stay?

Reaching the end of the year, feeling discouraged and depleted I knew leaving my position now (which I could easily do by retiring a year ahead of schedule with minimal financial impact) would feel more like quitting than “retiring early.” I am many things, but I am not a quitter. I was mindful too of the impact leaving would have on my co-workers, many of whom I am grateful to also call my friends.

Through all of these challenges, there has been a soundtrack playing which kept me going even when I was sure I could not face another day of chaos. It is a soundtrack filled with songs of the restless quest for meaning, of reaching for hope in the face of doubt and a search for light when plunged into darkness. So two days after dragging myself across the finish line of unresolved dilemmas, I headed West to spend some time with the band who writes those songs.

Nothing in my life would ever be the same.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

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Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.