journeys

Sleepless in North Carolina


It’s another sleepless night.  What exactly is keeping me awake:

* rehashing every conversation I had today

* thinking about all the things I did today

* regretting all the things I did not do today

* going over in my head all my past failures

* start worrying about how many hours are left until I have to wake up; assuming, that is, I ever fall asleep

* wondering if I should have a snack

It’s no wonder I cannot sleep.  My brain will not shut off.  If, by some miracle, I am able to shut one part of my brain down, something else pops into another section and it starts all over again.  Why do I do this to myself?

I could ponder that question but it would only leave me unable to sleep.  Maybe one night in five do I find enough peace to actually sleep most of the night.  All the other nights I wrestle with problems, have conversations that will never occur and generally beat myself up for everything I have ever done and said or didn’t do or say.  Basically it seems like a no-win situation.

As I sit here with only lights from my mini Christmas tree (it is one of the few things I kept from my old life) and the light from my iPad, I feel content in some strange way.  The absolute quiet is really peaceful except for the faint ticking of a distant clock.  The world is quiet for a while.  I should be making better use of this time instead of making myself feel bad I should be doing something positive like writing, reading or praying.

I think subconsciously I get some strange pleasure out of making myself feel bad.  The healthier I get, the more sleepless nights I have.  As if my mind is saying, sure things are better in here but I still control it and I can make you sad at a moments notice.  It’s like some sick obsession that stems from my uneasiness with feeling too good.  In the back of my mind I feel if I am too happy something bad is going to happen.  This leads me to have low expectations of life.  Don’t expect much, never be disappointed.  

Now I realize that is plain stupid thinking.  I wonder how much joy I have missed just because I was afraid of it.  So things go well and I have to sabatoge myself.  That has to end. I can never feel better if I continue this line of thinking.  If I raise my expectations, does that mean I will never be disappointed?  Heck no.  Disappointments are going to happen, that is the human condition.  But for the times when there is nothing particular to be disappointed about, there will be joy.  Joy that I was afraid of before but now I embrace for the lovely moment it is.  

I’m going to start to stop that disruptive behavior and concentrate on seeking the joy.  If I quit criticizing myself all the time, then maybe I will have peace enough to sleep or, at least, be positively productive.   I’m going to try this new theory right now.  Either I fall asleep or use the time in better ways.  I have beat myself up enough, I have worried obsessively about things that have never happened and I played out more than enough conversations I will never have.  It’s time to put on my big girl panties and take charge of my thoughts instead of vice versa. I’m going to sleep now, I hope.  

My Epic Journey: One Year Later

Have a good trip AVERY

Well, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the start of my Epic Journey.  One year ago, I pulled out of the driveway in search of God, inner peace, purpose and a new way of life.  As I look back on the ideals I had before I left, I think how foolish I was.  I expected this trip around the country to change my life and change me as a person.  My life has changed as have I as a person, but not because of the physicality of driving around from state to state.  Seeing the largest ball of yarn or the ocean, those things did not create the change I am experiencing today.  It was wonderful to see all the things I saw but much of it left me still wanting for something more.

Over and over again in this blog, I have mentioned how the people I have met have changed me.  That fact is still true.  This journey has allowed me to meet all kinds of people: ex-convicts, possible gang members, homeless people, wanderers, and everything in between.  My perception of people has vastly changed.  I have had the hardest of people look after me, without a request, while I sat alone in a bus station at 3 in the morning.  I have had complete strangers care about me and my well-being in situations I never imagined.  People I would have been afraid of in my old life have shown me compassion without expecting anything in return.  My heart swells just thinking about it.

When I first came up with this crazy idea I was terrified to even speak about it out loud.  I was sure my friends and family would have me committed.  Then I slowly started to feel the waters and found out that everyone was ready to stand with me and show me support I never imagined.  I could never have done this without them.

The people have definitely changed me.  But there has been other aspects to this journey that have changed me also.  Flying without a safety net (or not having a home base any longer) proved to more than I could bear in the beginning, then became more and more of a blessing as time ticked on. I have a home base now, but it is different in ways I still have yet to imagine.  The concept of not owning much, which was scary at first, is something I freely embrace now.  The weight of “things” has lifted and I can breathe again.  Goodbye things, I do not miss you.

I have learned the difference between alone and lonely.  I am alone a lot, and yes, I am lonely sometimes, but I do not have to be both all the time.  Same with sad and depressed, I no longer let the sadness turn into depression.  I have learned that having control over everything is like a prison, you are locked in and there is no way out.  Giving up control, just like giving up things, is the key that unlocks the prison door.  Trying to control everything is just too tiring and it never quite works out.  These are just some of the things I have learned over the past year.

This year has been a year of changes and re-evaluating everything I knew before.  I am still not “there” but I now have the first year under my belt and I survived.  That is a glorious feeling.  Now my heart is open to more possibilities and more opportunities.  I am looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring.  This journey is not over by any means, but it is easier to see outside of myself now.  There really is a big world out there and it actually does not revolve around me. I no longer need to carry the burden of having everything in the world depend on me (one of my major misconceptions).  I can now start to live a life that is open, even raw at times, but not closed off because of fears and uncertainty.  Every new day is uncertain, I am learning to embrace it.

Here’s to experiencing more pain, more joy, more love….just more of everything.  It is scary indeed, but worth it every step of the way!

From Ohio to North Carolina….I wonder what’s next?

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When Words Hurt

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This has been a weird month for some reason.  Out of the blue, with no hint or preview, I was reminded that I am not physically a beautiful person by two separate and unrelated people.  I have been working on not caring what people think of me, but these words hurt.  I tried to brush them off, especially since they were said by people who barely know me but they stayed in my brain and continued to erode away any confidence I had.

I am not sure why these things were said or if I did something to bring them on.  But after stewing over the hurtful words for a couple of days, I have learned a few lessons from the experience.

Firstly, I am reminded that words do indeed hurt.  You can either build someone up with words or completely devastate them.  I knew from past mistakes that this is true, but maybe I needed a refresher course in the evils of a wayward tongue.  Even something said in jest can be hurtful.  I do not want to be that person, I want to be the one who lifts people up.  There is just not enough of that in this world today.

Secondly, I am reminded that no matter how tough I say I am on the outside, I am still affected by other people’s opinions.  That is really a lost cause.  Unless the person is someone who is close to me or someone I care about, I should take the words with a grain of salt.  I should remember that everyone these days has an opinion about everything, including my looks apparently, and they are very willing to share that opinion.  I cannot control or censor what they say, but I can control how I take those words and process them.  Sitting by myself, depressed and lingering over the words is not the choice I want to make when something is said to me.  Can I use the words said to better myself?  If so, then I need to do it and if not, I need to let them wash down the drain like dirty dishwater.

Thirdly, I sometimes forget how easy it is to judge a book by its cover.  I know that is so very clique, but it is true.  I was judged harshly by my cover by people who do not know me.  True beauty comes from a generous and kind heart, it comes from a place of humanity and concern for others, and it comes from a million or so lessons learned the hard way.  Beauty is not skin tone, hair color, fingernail length….it is how you live your life when no one is paying any attention.  It is about how you treat people and how you handle situations.  I forget that for a few days.  I am now reminded of it.

I may not be a beauty by the world’s standards and that is okay.  Looks do not last, they fade like the sunlight at dusk.  I do not want to be remembered for how tiny my pores are or how silky my hair is (neither of which is true of me by the way).  I want to be remembered for trying to become a better person.  I still have a long way to go, but I am, at least, trying.  Does that make me beautiful?  I do not know and, frankly, I am not worried about it.  As Dr. Seuss points out, “I am who I am.” (or maybe it was Popeye.)

I am glad the words were said because it made me lose my confidence for a few days.  It reminded me of a place where I no longer wanted to be.  It was a place of sadness and inner conflict.  That is a place I left behind and it should stay behind.  That place has no place in my present.  I learned that I can be hurt, but there is always something to learn from the sting.  For that I am thankful.

Small Town Girl

NYC

Like John Mellencamp, I grew up in a small town and I lived in a small town.  Whereas he loved it, I hated it most of the time.  Oh, how I wanted to be like Mary Tyler Moore and move into a really cool apartment and have a really awesome job.  I dreamed of being a big city girl.  I thought I would hang out at art museums, listen to symphonies, drink fancy beverages, write awesome prose and basically just be very bohemian (a word I had to look up before wanting to become it).

I always put off my dream of writing because I had not experienced anything.  I thought only living in a city like New York or Chicago would give me the cred I needed to write and to be cool.  I have already established from other blog posts, that when God was giving out coolness I must have been in the ladies room or quite possibly taking a nap.  Cool is not who I am.

Let me tell you about my two days in New York City.  I was given an opportunity to visit New York City for a travel coordinator’s seminar.  I jumped at the chance and packed my bags.  I had been to Chicago many times and Los Angeles too.  I figured New York was going to be the place I fell in love with, the place that would change my life.

The plane landed in Newark and from that moment on I hardly drew a breath.  All the people, all the commotion and the overall bigness of everything started to overwhelm me.  Every movie I had ever seen about NYC flooded my memory all at once.  I somehow got into a cab (which was way smaller than I had imagined it to be) and got to my hotel.  When I got out of the cab, the city noises were almost deafening.

I finally got to my room on the 12th floor.  I quickly bolted the door and placed a chair in front of it for added security.  I slowly moved toward the window and looked out.  Buildings were everywhere, as far as I could see.  Even that far up all I could hear were car horns and sirens.  The sidewalks were wall-to-wall people.  More people on one street than lived in my entire hometown.  I gingerly moved over to the corner of the room, fell to the floor hugging my knees and stayed in a fetal position for most of that first day.  Overwhelmed did not begin to cover how I felt.

Not sure if or when I even slept, most of the day was a blur.  I had obligations to fulfill regarding this trip so I made myself get out and go to the seminar.  After it was done, I walked to the Chrysler Building thinking it was the Empire State Building.  That is how “cosmopolitan” I was.  At home, I always considered myself so citified, when in reality I was really just a small town girl and New York City was not the place for me.  I was lost and afraid the entire time I was there.  I walked to Times Square which was larger than I thought it would be but at the same time smaller than I thought it would be.  It seemed very surreal to me.

Saddened on the way home, I realized that all my grand dreams were just that…dreams.  Nothing was as I had thought it would be.  I was pathetic in the big city.  I was so very sad when it hit me that I was just small town.

Fast forward to North Carolina.  I stayed in Asheville for a while.  Asheville is in no way similar to  NYC but it is a fair size town with lots of people.  I never felt secure there.  I never felt like I fit in.  It is a lovely town with lovely people but it just was not for me.  Then I found Bryson City.  A town more like where I came from.  My comfort level went through the roof.  This town fit me and I fit it.  Everyone literally knows everyone else.  The people in the diners are friendly as are the shop owners.  There is a slower pace that small towns have that I require in order to thrive.

I cannot live under the constant pressure of a big city.  I can do without the over-abundance of micro-breweries and dance clubs.  I like shopping at Family Dollar and Freds.  I do not need specialty shops and fancy places.  My heart is heavy that I am really not as cool as I once thought I was, but I understand it now.  Some people are made for the big city and some are not.  I am not.  I am learning to embrace my small town attitude and be thankful that I, at least, got to see a few big towns in my life.  I guess part of the journey is finding out not only what works but what doesn’t.

I guess, like John, I will probably die in a small town and I am finally ok with that.

Teamwork-It Is The Best!

GSMR Crew

Me and my crew!! Part of a great team!!

I have been blessed most of my working life that I have worked with great people who would pull together to obtain a goal.  There is nothing like the feeling you get when something comes together and it was because everyone pulled their weight and got the job done.

It has been a few years since I have had a position that required a lot of customer service.  Mostly, I have worked in offices with little contact with actual customers.  My position on the train, however, is full-on customer service all the time.  If you think about it, our train is not like Amtrak; we take you one place and bring you back to where you started.  It is a scenic excursion meant to bring about relaxation and joy from seeing the beautiful scenery.

Our customers pay their hard-earned money to take our day trip.  It is our job to make sure that the experience is safe, fun and memorable.  This means going over and above what our job descriptions might say.  Any number of situations can come up, and do, that cannot be anticipated.

With that being said, I cannot imagine doing this job without being part of a great team.  Anyone of the team will jump in to help, job description or not, to fill the customer’s need.   This makes for an excellent customer experience.

I am finding out that life is not a solitary sport, but a team event.  The thoughts I had of ever being a “lone wolf” have long gone once I realized that there is no way to get through this by myself.  Many of my posts discuss this same topic, but it is becoming so clear to me that I need to learn to ask for help and I need to give my help freely.  It is that give and take which makes life more fulfilling.

I am lucky to have had the privilege of working with so many people who have been willing to show me the ropes and who take the time to answer my never-ending rounds of questions.  I hope to be that giving when someone asks me how to do something.  Since we are all in this life together, it only makes sense that we help each other.

Teamwork was always just a concept in my mind.  I understood it but I had to have the control of doing it all myself.  That left me burned out and unhappy.  Now I just ask for help and give help when asked.  This is a much better way to work and to live.  Wish I would have given it more consideration sooner.  I always thought being part of a team would be constrictive, but it is just the opposite.  It is a freeing experience. I am amazed at the lessons I am learning.

Here is to giving help when needed and taking help when needed.  Here is to being part of a team not only at work but in life!  GO TEAM!!

Chillin’ at the NOC

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, my current job on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is spectacular.  The people are great, the train is very cool, the waters of the river clear as can be and the scenery is absolutely stunning.

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The railroad takes a westbound excursion to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (AKA the NOC) where passengers get to experience the sights of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River among other things.  As the train melodically moves down the track at its leisurely pace,  one can see rafters and other outdoor people enjoying the natural beauty that is Western North Carolina.

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The NOC has over one million visitors a year.  Activities they can choose from include: whitewater rafting, paddling school, an outdoor leadership institute, fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, great food and zip lining.  The center also hosts festivals and other events during the year.

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Personally, I am not the outdoorsy type, but I have found myself considering a whitewater rafting trip and/or a zip line adventure.  Oddly enough, the last time I through caution to the wind was a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  On that vacation, I parasailed and did a few other things that the “old Lois” would never have done.  It only makes sense that I create a few more adventures during my time in North Carolina.

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North Carolina was never a place I would have intentionally chosen to visit, let alone stay for a time.  Yet, I have fallen in love with its natural beauty and elegance.  The people are friendly and welcoming.  It is a lovely place and I am glad I get to chill here for a while.  I am thankful for all the adventures I have had so far and look forward to more.

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The Most Important Part of my Uniform

smile

As part of my job on the railroad, I am required to wear a very specific uniform.  Failure to comply with this mandate means that I would be sent home without the ability to work that day. There is no wiggle room regarding this issue.

In the morning, I make sure my white button-down shirt is pressed, that my pants are black, that my tie is straight and that my vest is neat and clean.  All the employees in the same position are required to wear the exact uniform.  It adds to continuity and looks very good.

There is one other very important component to my uniform…it’s a smile.  I have learned that a smile can warm the coldest person, it can soothe a scared child and it can set the tone for the day, not only for me but my customers and co-workers.  A genuine smile is the most important piece to my uniform.

I am learning to smile more and to really mean it.  I get dressed in the morning and start smiling; I start work smiling, I serve my customers smiling and I end the day smiling.  The power of that single gesture changes everything.

Being positive has never been a gift I have possessed.  Low expectations meant less disappointment and that is how I ran my life.  I was overjoyed when my expectations were exceeded, but I learned to not expect it.  In the process, I missed a lot of joy.  Shrouding yourself with protective walls keeps the hurt from coming in, but also keeps the unexpected happiness from coming in.  I am in the process of breaking down my walls.

The smile I give to myself and to others helps open my heart to new experiences and allows me to meet new people.  Smiles attract smiles…and laughter and joy.  Those are things I want in my life but have always been afraid of.  Seems if I was happy, I worried when it would end and how that ending would come.  Happiness was fleeting because I had learned to worry about everything, real and imagined.  I missed a lot in my life because I gave up on having faith and started to trust the worrying.

Not every person will accept the smile as a gift, I totally understand that.  I was that person.  I cannot change them, I can only change myself.

As of today, a smile and positive attitude are now part of my daily dressing routine.  I want to be open to those new experiences and learn from them.  It is amazing how such a small thing can have such a large impact.

Here’s hoping you have a smile-filled day full of joy and laughter.

People Who Need People…

people

The revelations just keep coming…

So, I have been saying all along, in this blog, that it is the people I am meeting who are making this adventure really relevant.  I knew it but today the reality finally set in.

I was riding the rails today (at my job on the railroad) and my car was full of the most amazing people.  They listened to my story and told me theirs.  I heard stories of missions work and traveling the world.  I realized that this is not an isolated day, the people I have met since I started working on the railroad have been awesome.  Everyone’s story is different, yet they are all based in being human and helping others.  I aspire to be that inspiring.

After work, when I had time to contemplate my newfound knowledge, I realized it has always been this way.  When I look back on my 25 years of working in an office, I barely remember the work.  I remember the people.  I remember all the things we as humans shared and all of our unique differences.  Filing papers and answering emails may have provided the means for a paycheck, but laughing or crying with someone created a lasting bond that cannot be destroyed.  Memories were created.

I always considered myself to be a loner.  I have always enjoyed my own company and never felt that I needed others to complete me.  I could not have been more wrong.  I see it clearly now.  Some of us may not need as much human contact as others, but it is still a necessary part of life.  Making connections with people, hearing their stories, feeling their joys and pain, sharing a laugh, working together for a common goal…these are the things that give a real meaning to life.  It’s what makes you get out of bed in the morning.

Like most things in my life, I have taken many people for granted.  That should be considered one of the bigger sins in life (maybe No. 11?).  No one should be taken for granted.  We have so much to learn from each other.  The more people I meet, the more inspired I become.  The more I talk with old friends, the more I realize how they shaped me into this person today (a mess still am I, but on the road to being better).  I can no longer discount the impact I feel when I talk with an old friend or when I meet someone new.  I want to be a better person, I want to get out there and be alive.

That is what this adventure is about; me not being afraid of everything anymore and taking the time I have left and actually doing something instead of just thinking about doing something.  I could never have gotten to this point without the people in my life.  It makes no difference if I have known you all my life or for just a few hours.  The impressions have been made and they are filling me with awe and a desire to learn more, do more and be more.

The song is right, people who need people are the luckiest people.  I get it now.  I cannot believe it took me so long to realize it, but I do and I think this may be a turning point in my 360 degree change.  I could not have done any of this without all of you, your support and your love has made this possible for me.  Thank you does not begin to cover it.  I am so very and completely blessed because of the people I know and the ones I have yet to meet.

My Life as a Television Show

television

Maybe I watch too much television, or more likely, I watch the same shows over and over again.  It has made me sometimes see my life as if it were a television show.  Did you ever have one of those moments when you are riding in the car, you are feeling good, the weather is absolutely stunning, the sun is shining bright and a great song comes on the radio (Sultans of Swing, perhaps)?  It feels like for just a very slight moment you are in one of those perfect television scenes that make you forget about life and it just plain feels great!

I have not had one of those moments in a while and I miss it.  I miss the free feeling you get and the temporary state of perfection you feel.  Unfortunately, you cannot force those moments they just happen and need to be savored.

I am learning that life is that way.  You cannot force it, and goodness knows I have tried!  The perfect moments come when you are not expecting them.  They come with an unexpected smile, a kind word, or sometimes when you are somewhere you did not want to be.  I have found that many times when I look forward to something, it falls short of my expectations, but when I would rather skip it, the event turns out to be most worthy.

Life is a funny thing that way.  It can be so glorious and it can be hell on earth, sometimes all in the same day.  The perfection is not always obtainable, but it can show up no matter how fleeting.  I am learning that one must grab those moments and keep them in your heart.

Here is to hoping that those magic moments do not become strangers, that they visit often.  Here is to enjoying them in the here and now and not worrying about how long it will last.  Here is to a happy ending now and then.  We all deserve that and I hope you have as many as life wants to hand out.

 

 

Getting Old: It Is Not for the Faint of Heart

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As the saying goes, getting older is not for the weak.  I am finding that statement to be one of the most truthful statements I have ever heard.  As I look through the postings on social media, I see people who are ill, depressed, lost, depleted and grieving.  That names just a few of the human conditions being dealt with on a daily basis.  My heart breaks for my friends who are suffering.

I am sitting here right now contemplating the latest of many losses already this year.  Prince.  I was a huge fan back in the day and his loss is weighing heavy.  But it is not just him, it is all of the loses I have endeared in this life.  There are days I wake up and my first thought is that I am going to call my mother today.  Well, I cannot do that because she went to heaven several years ago along with my father and my sister.  But I would do anything to hear her voice and get her advice one more time.

I am blessed that I do believe in Heaven and believe that I will see them again, but for those days when the heaviness of loss is almost unbearable, that time cannot come soon enough.  I took my loved ones for granted.  I never dreamed that they would ever be gone.  Yet, they are and the loss is epic all these years later.

That is not to say that one cannot experience loss at a young age. There are so many young people hurting from their loss suffered in childhood or young adulthood.  Loss is not, by any means, gifted only to the older.  I realize that, but I am personally getting older and that is where my particular viewpoint focuses.

So add the new aches and pains of older age, the possibility for accidents and disease, the questionable future of retirement and the uncertainty (which again crosses all age lines) of this political  future we are all looking at and getting older stings a little more.  Yes, it is better than the alternative, but it still hurts.

Getting older has some advantages.  I enjoy the wisdom I have now that was completely nonexistent in my younger years.  The filters now work on my mouth much better than before.  I have deeper understanding and empathy for others now.  Those are just a few of the blessings that come with age.  Most days, you can see those positives and put the negatives out of the picture for a day or however long.  But the losses never really go away, do they?  You never quite stop missing the parent, sibling, family member or friend.  You even miss the celebrities you never met.  I see a picture of Princess Diana and I feel remorse to this day.  I hear Stevie Ray Vaughn and my heart skips a little beat.  That is all part of being human.

I am happy that as I age, I do not feel the overwhelming need to rush at everything I do or to do every single request that comes my way.  I have learned to say “No” as a complete sentence.  That was unheard of as a young person.  My back hurts now and I have a garden variety of other ailments that come with getting older.  The once broken heart has mended a bit and appears to still be working, and that is a good thing.  To add insult to injury, I now pee a little when I cough, laugh or sneeze, I pass more gas, my favorite foods give me heartburn and the reflection in my mirror is unrecognizable at times.  As my mother used to say sarcastically, “More fun.”

The reason, in my mind, why aging is not for the faint of heart is because burying pain and angst is no longer an option as when you were younger.  When I was younger I could make myself so busy those thoughts never entered my mind.  Now in the dark silence of the many sleepless nights I encounter, the reality comes to the forefront and stays there.  There is no dismissing it or moving on.  Age seems to make you deal with it, sometimes once and for all and sometimes over and over.

We all will deal with things that make us wonder about that alternative that is so much worse than this, but in the end we should all be glad for each new sunrise we see and each day we get to say “I love you” to those important people who are left.  I think for today I will stand in the Purple Rain and let it wash my tears of sadness away.

Tomorrow is another day I hope to see.  If I do, it will have its share of pain and sorrow, but lets hope yours and mine are gifted with some peace and lots of love.  That is all we can ask for.