I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys lately. The metaphorical and allegorical ones, certainly, but the actual ones have been occupying my mind these days. The journey of our lives is marked with so many milestones, like pebbles dropped to mark the path we have walked. It is also measured by those who come and go from our lives, friends and loved ones who walk the same path as us for a while and then leave to follow a new path without us or sometimes leave this earth altogether. I still have traces of them I can follow backwards to the times we were together.
What started me thinking about journeys is the branch of bay leaves drying in my garage. We got them from the yard of friends who had a tree growing there. The drying leaves would last us months, gently flavoring soups and sauces and baked vegetables with meat and fish. They would last until our next visit with our friends when another branch would be cut to hang in our garage. The journey with these friends went on for years, our children growing up together, becoming adults and moving on until there were times it was just the four of us. But our paths have parted as our friends have left to build a new life in an exotic land and I find that last branch of bay leaves slowly dwindling as we pick the sturdy leaves for our meals, our last visit together moving farther back in memory.
Time is measured so differently as we age. As a young woman I flitted from jobs to auditions to outings and parties with friends. As a mom, my days became more scheduled around my children, their school and events, movies, play dates and sleepovers. Now that they have grown and flown the nest, my days are measured by my job and home obligations, by meals and glasses of wine with my husband, good books and movies shared with friends. Each step feels so different as though we keep plucking the bay leaves from that branch, savoring each one but dreading the growing sparseness.
Yet other measures mark the journey we take. We leave traces of ourselves along the way. Our children are now adults, their lives similar yet so different. Our dear friends beckon from that exotic land and I feel that magic seduction and the lure to follow but then suddenly I catch the powerful scent of that pure air from the nearby mountains mixed with the sea and I get confused. Where do I want to be? The world calls me, yes it does, but I have roots here, I have a home here, I raised my children here. Yet I am not certain my journey ends here.
If we count off time like the slow shedding of the bay leaves, I find there are so many other ways to trace the way. But no matter how clearly we mark the path, the truth is we can never go back. The way through life is forward. There are times we get stuck in the past but we are never truly living there. And no matter how often we might try to change a past experience, it is truly set in stone. The best we can do is learn from it and keep moving forward. And yes at times the paths have changed and some loved ones have gone missing. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, it can be a struggle and we can lose our way. But if we pay attention there are signposts along the road. And then the journey is awesome and we are reminded what all that was for. We can’t go back, we can only go on.
I am saddened by the number of those who have reached the point of no return. People with so much promise, their pain blotting out the sight of their own worth. I am wondering how we turn this tide. How we can help those find their pebbles or signposts to get back on their life’s journey? The work I do with young students on the cusp of adulthood illustrates so clearly how we choose a path or how, sometimes, one is chosen for us. I have learned that the best I can do is just be there. Be present for my husband, my children, my siblings. Be present if my loved ones need lifting or lean on them when I need lifting.
So I have decided that each of those bay leaves is a blessing reminding me of how rich my journey has been so far and the promise of more even though the branch is getting bare. Spring has just arrived and the buds of new flowers and bushes are opening. Every stone or boulder or washed out bridge along the way that has changed the course of my journey was meant to be, but no matter how difficult getting past those blocks was, I’m still moving forward. The bubbling sauce on my stove begins to fragrant the kitchen which brings me back to the here and now. And sends me to the garage to fetch one more bay leaf.