After weeks of the blistering Southern heat when the thermometer reached or passed 100 degrees for many days on end, I made what may externally appear to be a spontaneous decision to head west into the Smokey Mountains. What isn’t so apparent is the barrage of internal chatter against the trip that had to precede and even accompany me on my trip. The whole thing began with the deceptively simple question, “So (Lee), what do YOU want to do?”
I asked this of myself which, again, might not seem that groundbreaking. Since I cannot know what kinds of questions other people ask themselves, I have no idea how common or uncommon this is for others. What was striking for me was that the clarity of this question was new.
I mean it’s not like I never consider what I want. But the process I just went through to get here, where I am watching an early evening thunderstorm from a rocking chair on this 100-year-old stone porch overlooking the North Georgia mountains was not a simple A leads to B leads to C, linear path. Yet, underneath it all, a part of me persisted with this question about what I truly wanted for myself.
The path to this lovely summer’s eve and being enveloped by the combined scents of rain, sweet grass, fried chicken and green beans had, as I said, many tangled twists and turns of thought.
Before I could get here I had to navigate a near-constant stream of road block thoughts like:
- I shouldn’t spend this money on something so frivolous
- What if one of the kids needs me?
- What if one of my parents needs me?
- What about work?
- Is this irresponsible when I have so much to do?
- I don’t know if I really need this. I am rested enough.
But, like I said, there was this question that kept poking its way through the internal debris. “What do you want to do?”
And the way I answered this kind of question without shooting it down before it had a chance, was experientially. I had to feel my way into the answer. To answer such a mind-boggling question, I had to drop out of my head entirely and pay attention to things like images in my mind’s eye. Or smell memory. Or other sensory memory. With data like this, an answer began to congeal.
“I want to go to the mountains.”
Specifically, to get here to this porch I had to drop out of my head-space with its accompanying 1001 reasons not to go on a trip and down into a place inhabited by my senses. I had to do this just long enough to recall the following:
One time, while I was sitting in the outdoor patio of a Thai restaurant in Black Mountain, North Carolina, there was a not so distant roll of thunder. All of us diners looked up the street toward the sound. Lo and behold, a cloud was headed down the mountain straight for us.
Of course, this wasn’t too alarming since the Thai restaurant was in an old-timey gas station. The “patio” was really the parking pad and we were under the giant, porte cochère overhang. Instead of pumps, there was now a fountain surrounded by Buddha-esque statuary.
What none of us distinguished at the time was that this was not a “cloud” of mist or a “sheet” of rain. This was a cloud, cloud, the source of lightning, thunder and rain. In a twist, the cloud entered the porte cochère and promptly rained cats and dogs all over everything, including my coconut chicken soup and mango tea.
It’s like sea smoke, that phenomenon that happens above a certain northern latitude. At certain altitudes, weird stuff like getting caught inside a rain cloud just happens. You experience this oddity and move on. But, possibly, you move on somewhat changed. Or I did.
Something about that experience washed over me again as I sat in a hot room the other day allowing myself to wonder, “What do I want to do?” It felt like a type of longing. But longing carries with it some very useful information.
As I write this, I watch a zap of lightning hit the administration building of the private school across the valley. Such is the life of a cupola. I recently heard we would be shocked (haha) to find out how many steeples or other tall structures were repeatedly struck by lightning without incident due to proper grounding.
Meanwhile, the lightning bugs take no notice and begin to decorate the yard under the shelter of the oak trees. The rain spills down the gutters and onto the lichen-covered sidewalks. The birds sing their dusk songs.
Once I was able to cut through the clutter of my thinking, I was able to see that this is exactly where I need to be. The temperature tonight is cool enough that I had to run up the rickety stairs to my oddly-shaped room for a blanket, which now envelopes me along with the sound of the thunder, the birds and the smell of fried everything from the restaurant next door, a place my family frequented when I was a girl.
I feel deeply rooted here in the oldest mountain range on Earth, home of the oldest river (which flows north, by the way). And just as eternal as these reliable geographical features, my more deeply held knowledge about what I really want is waiting under the smoke and mist of must do’s and should do’s.
As I sit here, I have no doubt I have done the right thing for me. Every last detail my senses are gathering at this very moment will serve as my map next time I have the question, “So (Lee), what do you want to do?”
I suspect for you, as well, deep under the mists and smoke of your mind chatter about to-do’s and yeah but’s, there is a clear and constant knowledge about what you want to do next, and I mean really want to do, just waiting for you.
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