“Near is where you’ll meet what you have wandered far to find.”
As Scott Cairns read those words from his poem “Draw Near” this past Tuesday evening at the Glen West workshop, I wondered about my own wandering. For some deep-seeded reason, too much wandering has always felt like a cop-out to me—an avoidance technique that gives us permission to not see what’s right in front of us, while making us appear adventurous. In other words, it’s a type of fear masked as bravery.
Is this what Cairns is referring to in these lines? I wondered.
After all, I was far from home as I heard him read. Santa Fe is not just a three-hour car ride followed by a three hour flight and a one-hour shuttle; it is also a completely different land—a world away from Central Illinois. At an elevation of over 7,000 feet (that’s 1,000-times more than at home in Urbana), the views are painterly and expansive. Even the air smells and feels different, and my eyes see the sky in more vivid contrast. Earlier on Tuesday, I had climbed the red rock hill behind my dorm, where we heard the coyotes sparring the night before. I wanted to get a more expansive understanding of where I was. Is my journeying so far from home a response to fear or an act of bravery?
By Thursday, our “free day” at the Glen, I was able to see it as both. I am afraid. I’m afraid of losing sight of who I am, afraid of being irrelevant, afraid of not grasping what I’m for. But I also had to be brave to step out in search of all that—to decide I no longer wanted to continue living with so many ellipses and question marks. Here’s how I put it as I journaled from my hike along the Atalaya Trail, Santa Fe National Forest:
I traveled all the way to New Mexico to find what has been buried right here, in my heart. I needed perspective—new conversations, a new framework for my story—to discover what’s within me. I’m not sure this is what Scott Cairns had in mind when he wrote those words, but it is what has been in my mind today.
And what did I find that week far from home? So many things, written as quick thoughts in my notebook. Like this: “I enjoy being alone, for spells, but after I have spent a significant amount without others I am less myself, not more myself.”
Another thing I discovered is that “I’m beginning to love writing again, after what feels like a long, conflicted and burdened string of months. This, I believe, is why: Rather than setting out to write a blog post, meet a deadline, or complete another chapter in my book, I am setting out simply to write—to discover through that process what is in my mind.”
I also unearthed a more succinct version of a truth I’ve circled around for years: “The story I need to write is about how I’ve always believed I need to fix myself rather than find myself.”
Now I’m back home in Urbana, where the humid air makes my hair and skin feel more like their usual selves, even as the deeper effects of my week in arid New Mexico continue to course beneath the surface. My deep hope is that this meeting of “near and far” in me will set loose a phase of discovery and joy, with many expansive views.