Prone to Wander

Yesterday my husband gave me a gift. He took Kip and Ivy on their first train ride to DC. I dropped them off at Penn station and I will meet them today, for Palm Sunday at Cara’s church.

Until then I am alone.

Nowhere to be. No one to meet. No calls to answer. No promises to keep.

That’s when I began reminiscing about the broad spans of my life when I resented the ties that bind. When I actively gnawed at, chaffed at, resisted people’s attempts to tie me down. Tie me into a theology. Bind me to a relationship. Root me in a specific place.

I didn’t get a cell phone until 2006…because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that easy to find.

When I did finally cave, it was after I had had a couple of seizures. When you can’t drive from six months and are beholden to others to get you hither and yon, they gotta know where to pick you up.

Okay, fine.

I have always known I needed a long tether. That I was prone to wander. As it turns out, those of us who set our sights to the horizon may be genetically wired to ramble. Geneticists are calling gene DRD4-7R (which is found in roughly 20% of the human population) the “wanderlust gene” or the “adventurer gene.” It is associated with restlessness and curiosity. It is found more prevalently in cultures that encourage travel and exploration. It is also a correlate of ADHD.

I don’t think I need to be tested.

And yet, the year I studied abroad, a year characterized by daily excursions and discoveries, I also bumped up against the edges of my desire for freedom.

After studying in London, I took a summer job in the Scottish highlands for a few months. At the end of this, I saved up for a solo 10 day trip completely on my own to Spain. I thought I’d be fine. I thought I’d contemplate Picaso, sample Paia, and hike Parque de Ordesa without incident.

There was no disaster. I didn’t get lost. Never felt unsafe.

But there was no one to turn and say “wow” to.

This was the first indication that either I was not as autonomous as I thought…or I was changing.

Since 2002 I have lived in one city. Baltimore. This was an accidental settling. It was meant to be a one year jumping off point for international exploration. But then I fell in love with a man who had had too much of wandering.  For a long time I resented this urban space that was too gritty and not green enough. Was sure it was only a matter of time until I moved to Colorado or Columbia. But lately, I’ve been thinking more about where my feet are rather than where they want to go.

Miles to go before I sleep...
Miles to go before I sleep…

In Buddhism, the root of suffering is attachment. Life is ever changing, yet we attach our affections, hopes, expectations to people, places, things that are bound to change. Our tight grip on them, when they are wrenched from our grasp, is what causes pain. Through the practice of detachment, the letting go, holding open-handed, we decrease suffering in ourselves and others.

I always resisted the firm grip of others. Pulled away. Disappeared. Stood at arm’s length.

Now I feel I’m in a perpetual tangle of arms and legs. I wake with one of my children drooling on my pillow. I switched to the “more everything” plan because millennials can’t fathom anyone wouldn’t have “unlimited texting.” My life is a web of connection and I am suspended in the middle.

As I tried to fit in time this Lenten season to sneak away and write, I had to compromise on my ambition for even 30 minutes a day. There were days that, if I insisted upon it, it would have meant the neglect of one human or another…mostly my children and husband.

And then this gift of an unfettered day. I can’t stop writing. It’s effortless. And it reminds me of the lure of detachment. The freedom of movement. To whirl and to dance.

It is a complicated tension. Too close. Not close enough. Both perilous.

We simultaneously crave and resist the earth’s and each other’s gravity…but I have come to a new understanding, I think, of the direction of my evolution.

The deeper the roots, the higher the branches.

My toes are dirty. I no longer wish to uproot them. But as I stretch downward, I am not immobilized. Instead, I am better able to stretch upwards, without fear of falling. Without fear of limits.

Rising into the blue.

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