Although I wasn't solo, the walk reminded me of backpacking for seven months through Europe when I was only twenty-three—back when my world first opened up—often hiking lonely country roads from bus stops and train stations to hostels and inns. Having been swept back in time, I closed my eyes for a bit and lifted my chin to better feel the sun on my face and to smell the salty breeze. I noted the new black asphalt under my ratty white sneakers. Wind softly combed the pines as if to whisper as I stopped briefly to regard clumps of wildflowers gone to seed. Puffy white clouds settled on a horizon made of vast banks of trees. In that moment, it was quiet and gorgeous. Under the big sky, I felt my own insignificance, while also hoping I offered the world something in return for its generosity. And, I thought of Finnegan.
Going slow motion in what has become one of my favorite spots in the world offered me a much-needed release—from relentless angst over my disabled, seizure-prone son Calvin, certain nagging questions, petty grievances, and intense sorrow after the accidental death of my close friend's child, Finnegan, who, despite not seeing him often, was also dear to me.
My back roads companion was someone I befriended this fall. While driving around with Calvin during the first year of the pandemic, I had frequently passed Lynn and her husband as they walked from their house near the point down a long wooded road. As she and I roamed the roads together, we talked about friendship rifts, parenthood, love, loss, grief, romance. It felt good to be in the presence of someone fun and new who buoys me and seems to get this person who sometimes feels misunderstood.
As Lynn and I padded along, my mind kept drifting to my friend's son, Finnegan. He died last week in a kayaking accident on a raging river. He was young, talented and vital. Full of love and promise. I remember his smooth, tawny summer skin and blushing cheeks. I liked his spiffy hairstyles. I recall him playing the fiddle for me and a restless Calvin in his family's kitchen, the music seeming to come to and from him so effortlessly. I remember his smile and warm embraces whenever I'd stop in to visit, which wasn't nearly often enough. Like his younger siblings, he was an old soul with a generous spirit whose humility might've been mistaken for bashfulness. And, like the rest of his kin, he was magnetic, but in a soft, warm, gentle sort of way. I've adored the moments spent with him and his family. Unlike so many others, they're memorable because the family is so welcoming, loving and real. Regrettably, I didn't—often couldn't because of Calvin—carve out enough time to be in his presence. And, just at the age when the larger world begins opening itself to young adventurers, nature's wildness took him. He was about to turn twenty-three.
On our car ride yesterday along the same backroads, Calvin spent most of it going berserk. As usual, I couldn't know the source of his misery. Regrettably, sleep deprivation had drained my patience for his mania, and I barked and cussed through his shrieking and flailing. As we drove past the farm where a few close friends were gathering around a bonfire to grieve the loss of our friend's son, Calvin continued to melt down. Just then, I glanced at the sky above the field. It was magnificent—moody in places, placid in others with large swathes of leaden darkness amid frothy patches of lavender-gray and blinding whiteness. It's a river sky, I thought, which made me focus on Finn and forget about Calvin's grousing. In that moment, rather than being self-absorbed and wretched, I was moved to be grateful—for my son and husband, my friendships new and old, for Finnegan and his family and their many friends, for those beautiful, rambling back roads and the big sky which, whether cloud-strewn and stormy, starlit or clear and blue, is forever breathtakingly beautiful.