Red Dirt Jar Journey. I once heard a fellow poet from Alabama reading at an event here in Nashville. She read a poem about Bryce, the state mental hospital. The poem intrigued me because I had always been quite afraid of the institution myself. It was an amazing piece. However, it was something that she shared at the end of the reading that stuck with me. She talked about a rough season she’d walkedwhere she’d gone through a long period of creative drought. Someone advised her to go back to her roots. At some point, she got into her car and went on a journey alone back to where she grew up. While she was there, she filled a jar with red dirt – the same dirt her roots ran from. When she got back to her adult home, she put the jar on her desk. She began to write.
At times, living in Nashville, I’ve felt like I live in a jar. I get well and I make friends and they see me in the jar, the top off. Then, I get sick again and have to stick at home and the lid is back on. I’ve made a few changes, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone at times, but I’ve usually ended up feeling isolated, unsure of how to walk this decade of my life – even just today. Who am I now? Why am I always sick? How do I make a life for myself? Why is there physical resistance to everything that feeds life into me? Please tell me the 30s are for figuring out.
I got out of the jar that really isn’t a jar … it’s just stuck. It’s just a sense of waste. It’s a sense of time moving and life wasting. I seek to give up control because it’s exhausting. I try to stop putting pressure on myself but at times I feel like a teakettle that won’t allow itself to release the steam.
I went on a journey. My mom was in the hospital, I’d missed seeing everyone in Alabama for so long, and I’d had a difficult time leaving after my cousin passed away. Two weeks. I asked for two weeks of community, of stability, and to love on others while soaking up the presence of people who’d always spoken light into my life. I was going to get away and listen to God and write more. It was a two weeks. It didn’t cure everything. I wasn’t all that better physically but it was a beautiful journey.
The drive to and from the red dirt jar journey destination were big victories for me. I hadn’t driven the three hour drive completely alone since probably, well, maybe a year or more. I made three CDs – songs with Alabama or Birmingham in them/folksy songs, girl power songs, and praise songs. The drive felt like knowing myself again. It felt like being brave with God. It felt freeing and hopeful. The drive home was good because I’d had some medicine changed and had been nervous of dizziness, heart palpitations, and feeling out of breath, but I did it and when I got home there was my beautiful husband and my doggies.
It’s never healthy to be dependent on your past for your current happiness, but being in my old room again showed me a few things. It reminded me at how much I need to be alone at times. Not isolated. Solace in solitude. It reminded me of the things that I need to feel relaxed and happy. It also reminded me of a place that wasn’t always perfect – I’d struggled in those four walls, I’d made mistakes, I’d triumphed, but I new it. It was there then and it was there now and I knew what it was like there. Sure, the walls are brown and not blue. Of course, I’m a different lady. However, I remembered how much I like to light candles. I diffused some essential oils every night. I felt like I could just work, watch a movie, read, or just be how I needed to be without thinking about how it effected someone else or without putting pressure on myself. It had taken me a long time to figure out how to do independent and I was happy there pursuing God and leaning on Him. Mistakes, mis-steps, learning how to do something you’ve never done before … it’s easier when there isn’t someone always watching even if they’re new to this season too and they’re not judging. I made a sanctuary for myself for those two weeks in my old room. I found places for my books, I changed the blankets, and I set up a computer at my old desk and watched the birds. There was so much quiet. I didn’t stay on edge wondering if I’d be interrupted. I lived. My jar was filling even without the dirt. The interesting thing was that my health was not perfect and the things I needed answers for in my life were not gone. I was able to see how to be me again. God helped me. I didn’t give up.
As much as I love being alone, I love community. I know it doesn’t really make sense. I do enjoy the balance of being with myself until I need to go be with others. I love the benefits of it. I love the spiritual connections behind the idea of it. I love that community is how we were meant to live. I love people. I have missed community so much in the past three years. At times, I’ve had community and then I’ve had to retreat. Deep down I think that I’ve missed the community that knows me deep, deep, deep. The kind that you can just hug, sit with and say nothing, and just be where you are in that moment. I got a lot of beautiful community when I was in Birmingham.
Sometimes, it’s just nice to be around your parents. It’s nice to be able to go downstairs and have a conversation and act goofy without heaviness or to go hug my mom in her room. It’s nice to feel their presence. It’s also nice to have a vacation from the pressures of “shoulds.” Let’s not forget the great food.
Family! I love my family. I’m a family girl. I never fit completely in Birmingham and maybe I’m different than most of them but if I’m not with my family for extended periods of time, I tend to lose my footing. Best friends included. I was so excited to see my cousin and her kiddos. I’d missed them so much. I’d wanted to play and catch up. There is something about the kids of the person you were with the most, close to your age … you know, your first best friend – their babies. It doesn’t hurt that they’re awesome kids. I miss babysitting them and being in their everyday life. So, I enjoyed spending time talking about school, books, and eating Mexican with my favorite teenager. I enjoyed getting to see the little have his 2nd Birthday party and getting lots of hugs from him. To see the baseball player’s practice and how talented he is and sweet he is. Then there’s Charlie Brown who I love to just observe. Spend the nights at my cousin’s, turns out they’re still one of my “best” things.
I got to have another wonderful spend the night with one of my best friends since high school and it was just what I needed. “Life-giver.” It should be somewhere in her name or her resume. I felt joyful and happy the whole next two days visiting with my husband and I believe a big part of it was having some girl time with one of the people I’ve missed being around. She makes my life a better place. She make me a better me. She remembers me when I forget. She put some laughter in my jar.
I met new friends doing the freelance job I was doing, I got a hug I’d needed for maybe a year from a special friend who I hadn’t seen in awhile, and lots of love from the people who helped me step into adulthood at the paper I used to work for. I got to have a whole day with grandparents. When I married Heath, I received the great gift of having grandparents again … great talks and cooking lessons were a great part of the red dirt jar journey with them. I had a wonderful morning with my 2nd Mom and I treasure the quality time I get to have with her, I got to go get my haircut by my aunt with my Mudder, and I had the privilege of being able to pick up the phone, call my sister, and do things with her right then! I also had a wonderful night getting to know a new friend who loved words, too. I got to work two floors down from my best friend who made things better just by her mere presence. My community cup was full.
I got lost going to a friend’s house one day while I was on the red dirt jar journey. Howdo you get lost when you’re going somewhere you’ve been a million times before? Not sure. I think at times it’s more of a, “I thought I knew where I was going but God was really driving the car.” The car turned into the cemetery gate. I wasn’t planning on going. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could still make the turn. Maybe, I thought, my cousin is there visiting and she’s hurting and she needs me. Maybe that’s what the pull was. So, I drove. I drove past where my grandparents were buried to a new grave, to a grave where I knew there was red dirt. My muscle memory got me most of the way there. It was a cold, cold day the last day I was there. The day they’d lowered his body into the ground. It was summer now. I knew what the grave should look like from photos and there it was. No one was there. Just me. So, I spoke. I watched the pinwheel turn consistently when I would end a sentence and it was almost like a conversation. I told him how proud he would be of his family. I told him he shouldn’t be there. I asked him to help if he was watching over me, to help me stop being such a worrier and get on with life, to help me be a better wife, and to hangout with Lily and Jack until we got to have them here with us. I told him I felt it was unfair that my two favorite people to misbehave with were up in heaven now. As I went to leave, I tripped. I knew that I didn’t trip over me foot. I knew that the ground wasn’t unlevel. I looked down and a coathanger had wrapped around my foot. I stopped and looked at the gravestone. I laughed and sobbed at the same time. In my spirit I felt two words, “Be happy.”
I’d had a plan. I was going to fill the jar up with dirt from my childhood home, from the playground of the church I grew up attending, maybe from my mom’s house, and possibly from my grandparents’ grave. On the way home, I had in my car an empty glass jar with a lid on it. As it is, God’s plans are always much larger, much better, and come in perfect timing. What I realized on the drive home is that I needed to start something new. Take the past and the present that I couldn’t quite grasp and begin. I had the journey. I am learning not to live between two states but to be whole. Let go. I think the jar will soon have some planter’s soil and a seed. The journey continues.