The As Yet Uncharted Territory of My Heart

Bethany Toews‘ exquisite take on navigating through our parks, and how such treks mirror the unfolding roads of our relationships…

13 days. 3,977 miles. 8 states. Enough miles and minutes to see deeper, truer. Perspective gained. High highs and low lows. Elation and frustration. Elevation change. Voices raised and then lowered as the scenery morphs. Camp sights and smelly motels. Nice hotels. Lots and lots of Dairy Queen Blizzards melting in the summer sun.
Long. Awkward. Silence. . . Laughter. Communicating logistics and obstacles, hopes and fears, and the need for a bathroom break. Winding up and breaking down. Being witness to all the emotion that only motion can draw out.
Travel shows us who we are, what we value, and what we long for. Traveling with others can strip away the excess, the niceties, the added padding we put on so many of our proclamations. The open road and confined spaces have a special way of exposing still-tender wounds and forgotten scars. Old memories are remembered as new ones are being made. No adventure comes without its fair share of heartache. No journey is complete without surrendering what was for what is becoming.

When I set out on this epic adventure, I knew I was heading into unknown territory. Not geographically speaking. I had been to pretty much every place we had mapped out for our grand loop through the Western United States. I knew I was about to head into an as yet uncharted territory of my heart. I was going to venture into the mysterious terrain of shared space with a 39-year-old man and his 8-year-old son. I knew I would not return to my home the same. I knew we would all come back with lessons and opinions and feelings that would remain long after the car was parked back where it began. For better or worse…

The last 15 minutes of our long journey ended with us all in laughter, delighting in a shared joke. This is important. There was plenty of time on this trip when I thought I couldn’t go another mile drowning in the annoyance, or the isolation, or the silence. There were days when I looked at them and thought how strange it was to find myself an intruder in their well-established belonging to each other. And then there was the night on Orcas Island, when the 3 of us curled into our sleeping bags in our shared tent, giggling and breathing together, still learning each other, but silently aware that we were slipping into something familiar, something familial. A new kind of family. Something that is complicated but powerful in its realness. Something that takes a lot of time, patience, creativity, surrender, forgiveness, flexibility, humor, and ultimately love to grow. Something that will require newer and truer parts of you to come forth. Hopefully the bigger and better parts, but most likely something in between.

When you realize what you want, you might be surprised to find it looks nothing like what you thought it would. I never thought I would fall for a man with a child that wasn’t my own. I never thought I’d need to learn the tricky territory of loving and leaving space with someone that you know will never see you as their mother, and yet, will hopefully over time see you as an important source of love and support in his/her life. I never thought I’d be sitting in the passenger seat reading the I Survived series out loud to an enthusiastic boy in the backseat. At first rolling my eyes at the juvenile language and then being moved to tears. The simple language of the stories of sinking ships and shark attacks drawing out how complicated love can feel. How hard it is to stay open and soft when we’re all scared of being hurt. I never thought I’d feel the tender and complex love for a mother who was navigating her own feelings as she had to accept her child was growing to feel comfortable with another woman.

It’s scary. I don’t want to overstep any boundaries. I don’t want to do more than is wanted or welcome. I don’t want to threaten anyone, or take away. But I do want to honor the truth of who I am. I want to be allowed to love more each day. To impart wisdom or guidance where it is needed. When possible, to make life a little lighter, more beautiful, more secure. To honor the wishes of my partner, who is a wonderful father, while also believing that I have something to offer. Some new ways of seeing, of being. Some new ways of being good to and for each other.

On the road, we were stuck with each other, quite literally. Perhaps that is what raises the stakes. This movie trailer for what is your unfolding life. The road that stretches ahead becoming a metaphor for the bigger commitment you are making to each other. The ways you are forced to depend and negotiate and compromise. The way you have to stay in the tent in the middle of the night in Montana, no matter how much part of you may want to run away. The way you fall asleep hurt and wake to feeling another’s breath on your face. The way it softens your desire to leave and imparts in you a primal need to stay.
I couldn’t have known how 2 weeks on the road would make me feel. That’s why I was nervous the morning we set out. That’s why I stayed nervous, when we went to Portland to stay with his his ex-girlfriend, his first love, his now dear friend. But she was lovely, and the more I challenged myself to keep my heart open, the better it felt. And then visiting my family in North Idaho. Worrying how it would go. Melting into a puddle when it went so much better than I could have hoped. Feeling almost confused at how immediately comfortable it felt. How everyone settled into each other. How in the midst of my history, I could see a future unfolding, and how right that felt.

>We have the measure of days and miles that we traveled, but there is no way to quantify what was gained. What was surrendered. What memories etched their way into our minds and how differently those memories will be remembered in future moments of our lives, together or apart. For now I am trying to keep it simple. For now I am trying to gratefully and graciously take my time. Offer what I have and who I am. Try not to ask for more than is gratefully and graciously given. And to trust that we come into each other’s lives for a reason. And if we meet with open hearts and open minds, wherever the road may take us, we will discover more truth and love and beauty along the way. And if that’s not the point to all of this, then I don’t really know what is.

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