Dearest of dear ones,
At long last, the promised update! Cutting right to the chase… I now live in Portland!
Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, I know. You’ve been talking about this for years.” I talked a big game, folks, but I was never actually sure it would happen.
It’s been a little more than a week since Portland-Sara morphed from an idea into a reality, so thinking about it still gives me a swoop in the stomach and a tingle in the neck. This is not bad or good; it’s change. It’s a decision made.
This year has been heavy with decisions, heavy with change.
Heavy with miles traveled (over 7,000), with months lacking a proper job (6), with states traversed (17), with moments of heart-stopping uncertainty (lots), and of pure, glistening joy (countless).
The first half of the year was so heavy I didn’t know how I’d bear it. There were times (days, weeks, months) when crying seemed my main occupation, when I could not fathom moving through the next day.
The second half of the year found me the lightest I’ve ever been. The most grateful. The most awestruck. The most surrendered.
2017: a year of metaphorical and literal journey.
Mid-December 2016, I was sobbing in my bedroom, yelling at God, “Why won’t you help me?!” This was a low point. Following my cancer treatment, I had rediscovered Spirit, embraced Presence, found a church I loved. (The Gathering in St. Louis, I don’t have enough words to express…) I was nourished. Then, with all of those things very much in my grasp, anxiety and darkness ate up the light. A dark night of the soul is what they call it. I managed to maintain a somewhat normal exterior, but the darkness was so deep, you guys, so why-am-I-on-this-earth-anymore deep. But that’s a story for another time.
Back to how I ended up in Portland.
In November 2016, two years post-treatment, when I’d expected to have a clear CT scan, be named officially cancer-free and ready to move on with whatever would come next, instead the scan was ambiguous. Some tiny thing that hadn’t been evident before had appeared; and there was the lingering bronchitis, the recurring pain in my ribs. Just before Thanksgiving, following a surreally crazy test involving a nearly empty room in the deepest basement of the cancer center — Nuclear Medicine — and a kind, careful nurse injecting a radioactive substance from a small metal vial into a vein in the delicate gooseflesh of my inner elbow, the potentiality that my cancer had spread to bone was dispensed with. But still, there would be three months more waiting to see if the new spot on the scan was Something, or just a glitch. (To save you the stress I endured, it was apparently a glitch. Huzzah!) But, there I was just a tad over a year ago, yelling at the Universe for help.
Two days after that December night of forsaken-feeling anger, I was given 30 days to move out of my apartment, where I’d lived for nearly six years.
Less than two hours after that, in a casual conversation, an angel of a friend offered me a place to stay for a couple of months, just to get me through my next scan. I ended up living there for six months — a safe, quiet place with dogs to love, and calm, solid support close at hand. The friend wouldn’t let me pay rent.
I guess Providence had heard my shouts.
That friend’s generosity allowed me to save money for a move to Portland where my biggest family cluster lives. But I was never sure the move was right. I was frozen. I was crying. I was saving up. For something.
Another tearful, prayerful night, it became clear that I needed three things: quiet, family, time. Now, to make these things happen…
In February, I got the all-clear from my doctor. “Sara, it’s time to go live your life now.”
In April, I hit a new low and, with a lot of help, got a handle on my depression.
In May, I gave notice on the most lucrative job I’ve ever had, working for a boss and with a team I respected immensely.
In July, I worked my last day at UMSL, repacked my 10 x 10 storage unit, filled my car with what I thought I’d need for up to six months (the ridiculous-long estimate; I expected to be on the road only through October at the very latest), said goodbye to my St. Louis beloveds, and started driving.
I promised many of you updates along the way and I did manage to post some pictures and captions, but the longer I waited to write to you, the more experiences built up, and the harder it seemed to tell all the stories. So, finally here are some details. I hope once I get caught up, I’ll be better at staying in touch!
July/August — Nearly six weeks in Arlington, VA with my brother, Jason, sister-in-law, Susan, and brand new nephew, James. So many beautiful, home-cooked meals; being part of a family, baby-duty (wonderful baby-duty!) and all; regular writing dates with my brother (who happens also to be working on a book manuscript); getting to know my sister-in-law, becoming true friends; a magical week on the beach in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, swimming in the ocean; so much reading. I never wanted to leave.
August — Back to St. Louis for quarterly medical tests (all clear); reconnecting with people I love love love; catching up on last to-do’s before heading west.
September — Chicago for several days with my dear, old friend Sarah (and her Brian and family) in her new city. Biking on the lake, museums, food, long walks and lingering conversation — some of my very favorite things. Ann Arbor to visit Ellie and Dave, two of the kindest people I know; welcome like welcome was born to be. Detroit to mourn my darling Auntie Cathy with my uncle and grandmother. Back to Chicago with Sarah and clan for one restorative night and morning before pressing on.
September/October/ November— Denver/Boulder. The sunlight! So much connection with family. Long conversations and walks with my Auntie Mia, getting to know the daily life of my cousins. Stepping into a family unit ready for me to join right in. Cooking, relaxing, reading; long trips to libraries and bookstores; mornings spent reading, afternoons spent walking; seeing my grandmother almost every day, joining her for seven Fridays of her ladies’ prayer group. When I arrived in Denver, I thought I’d stay a week or two; I finally packed up and left after eight. Good God, this time was a gift. A pearl of hope, clarity, and intention growing layer by layer by layer.
October also saw a quick side trip from Denver to Tulsa to reconnect with home. With my beloved high school best friend, Tara, I saw Ryan Adams at the Cain’s Ballroom; reconnected with Wendy and Johnny, Nate, Shane, my brother Adam and his wife, Gina; sat quietly at my mom’s grave; and then visited Lynette, a librarian I worked with for one year, nearly twenty years ago and whose voice stayed with me longer than she’d ever imagined.
November/December — I planned to go through California after Colorado — LA, San Clemente, Oakland, San Francisco — but was called to Portland early to help out with a family injury. Not the injury, but the call to Portland was right on time. I was ready to settle for a while — a while meaning through New Year’s. By this point, I wasn’t sure Portland was for me. I thought I’d go back to Arlington/D.C. to live with my brother and his charmed little family or, more likely, to Denver, land of the shining-est sun where my spirit glowed so bright. But then, following a hike during a long-anticipated side trip to Vashon Island in the Puget Sound to visit one of my dearest college friends, Leila, and her partner, Ellen… click, click, click, like the perfect tumbling of a clock’s gears, the Pacific Northwest grabbed me, a Portland job fell into place, and I decided it’s time to stop, to stay.
So, on January 2nd, I start my new job — 30 hours per week, leaving ample time to pursue my writing, and with medical benefits — as assistant to the Columbia District superintendent for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church, a progressive religious community that is, I believe, on the cusp of exciting change. (Yvi, you might not remember, but you’re the one who suggested to me, so many months ago, over lunch, a Conference job!) I’ll be renting a lovely room in my cousin Alexis’s family’s home — nestled among stunning pines and holly bushes bigger than you’ve ever seen — and joining the Alexis-Nathan-Finnegan-Wilder household as full-time Auntie Sara.
Who ever could’ve imagined, on that cold, miserable moving day last January…
On my travels, in a little indie bookstore in Ann Arbor, I found two beautiful art prints made, I didn’t know at the time, by a painter in Portland, OR. This is what they say:
“Everything changes. Nothing is Lost.”
“It is well with my soul.”
Yes. And amen.
Sending so much love and peace and gratitude. I promise to be in touch again soon.