Geographically speaking, I have caved in on myself. They say life does that in fall and winter. It caves in and shrivels up and burrows underground. It slows and hunches and reflects.
I don’t like winter, so I think about all the places I went when it was warm.
Most of the year, I’ve not been cold, or still, or quiet, or cozy, or inside. The year has been one of immense action and adventure.
I fished in the Bahamas with my dad and waded miles on the flats which blue holes punctuate. I volunteered on a Lopez Island pig farm and won 20 dollars playing pool and had my first experience with a sauna. It was on that farm I got the call that my grandma had passed away, and my hosts hugged me and picked flowers and lit a candle for her. I drove around Ireland with my family, where we ate in a bar that daylighted as a hardware store and stood on the westernmost point in Europe. I spent two days with my sister running all over Prague, a city the color of Dippin’ Dots, where marionettes performed a ghastly rendition of Mozart’s Don Giovanni on a miniature stage. We went to Orcas Island for Memorial Day, where we saw a very amateur circus at Oddfellow’s Hall and sat in hammocks on the porch in the morning drinking coffee and reading books aloud. My siblings and friends and I camped in the Enchantments in June, where we had no cell service and couldn’t google the symptoms of snow blindness, and we crossed a weir barefoot while freezing water turned our toes white. (We bookended the for-fun suffering with weinerschnitzel and frothy steins of beer in Leavenworth.) Two women and I led a mission trip for teenage girls to the south coast of Puerto Rico, where we prayed for people in town squares and painted cinder block houses bright blue, blue as the ocean we jumped in daily. To my delight, I missed a connecting flight in San Francisco on the way back and spent an extra day wandering into bespoke hipster taxidermy shops and sitting a long time in an adoration chapel in Haight-Ashbury. My family and I went to Orcas Island like we do every year, in July, and this year was lovely but tragic, because it was the first time my grandmother wasn’t there too. Nevertheless, my family kayaked around lakes and out into the Puget Sound, and my cousins and I won pub trivia. I went to Spain for nearly eight weeks and walked 550 miles from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, where I saw the entries and exits of the sun and moon daily, and yet another point touted as the westernmost of Europe. My family surprised my sister-in-law Ashley with a weekend in Vancouver, where we ate at an Afghan restaurant, walked for six miles in the gray rain around the seawall in Stanley Park, and sipped drinks in a warm bar playing party games. There, I saw that it was time to huddle together in the cold part of the year.
You must understand the strangeness of being back, staying in the same place every day and having a house rather than a bag full of things. Sometimes I miss all the travel. I think of ways to take another trip.
But I remember that the place I’m in now is a place just like all the places I’ve been this year have been places. Seattle too has specificity and atmosphere. And when I suffuse my life with worship rather than the mucky Pacific Northwest anxiety to which so many of us are prone, I remember that it was only ever God’s presence that made those places beautiful to begin with.
I store up this year’s travels like provisions to get through the coming winter.
The places taught me about God, and about who I am. They taught me that I am not my job or my income, because for most of the year, I had neither. They taught me that I am not my relationship status, and I am not falling short of my potential by being single. They taught me that the less stuff I have, the happier I am. They taught me that I thrive when I’m uncomfortable. They taught me that God is faithful to provide and comfort and surprise even when I’m faithless to what he would have me do. They taught me that travel is stupid, hollow, and exhausting when the Spirit isn’t driving. They taught me that God is with every place and person.
They taught me that the only occupation I love as much as adventuring is making things, and by making things, I mean making art, and by making art, I mean writing. That last thing, I didn’t know with certainty until this year.
So now, I work close to home at a small coffee shop. I stay with my lease and my city and my people. I come home after work and write at an old desk I found on the sidewalk and dragged Home. The chair is a folding wooden one someone gave my dad when he was just starting his business. I work and come home and sit here to make things.
The holidays are beginning and I’m home for them. This is the time of year we reunite and remember and give. Our houses are bursting because all the warmth and light of the wide summer world has crowded into kitchens and living rooms. There’s enough energy in the rooms now to stoke our smiles and get us through the cold times.