Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fun With Free Time: Ghent, OBX, and Missouri

Spring is a time for change. Unfortunately, change isn’t always expected, and it's seldom convenient. Sometimes it’s a lot like locking your keys in your car and trading a hot meal and an evening on the couch for a cup of cheap coffee and a park bench. In my case, it’s a lot like that.

At the moment, I happen to be sitting under the shelter of a fir tree, writing on a rain soaked pad of paper with a stolen pen, and waiting for my spare car keys to arrive. On the bright side, there’s nothing like 4 hours of unexpected free time to provoke the creative mind. At the outset of this disaster, I had two options. I could either sit in a cavernous parking garage soaking in toxic gas and self-pity, or I could give my flip-flops a workout and see the world, or at least historic Ghent. So this is a re-count of my epic trip to the hippie coffee shop and back. I left my incapacitated car bitter and downhearted (I was bitter and downhearted, not my car), but came back, well, a little better.

As I set out from the parking garage*, I had no clear objective other than distracting myself from the painfully slow deterioration of time. I turned right out of the garage, walked a while, was unimpressed with my surroundings, turned around, and decided to go left instead. Taking note of the increasingly attractive houses and shops in this direction, I remembered a phrase I had coined in undergrad: conscious extroversion. As it turns out, the idea behind the phrase was much broader than the phrase itself. It was actually closer to the Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness, or what Everett from O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? would call considering “the lilies of the [gosh darn] field.”

*my last effort to have Alaina push “unlock” on her extra set of keys through her phone had failed and the first available chance to get said keys within a proven working distance wouldn’t come for several hours

So, as I walked with an increasingly light heart across traffic and through unknown neighborhoods, I took notice of the world around me. An abandoned baby pacifier sat on the sidewalk a block from the children’s hospital. 4-story historic houses towered up on both sides as ever-watchful sentinels. Sweet smoke danced on the changing breeze and filled my nose. I followed the smoke to a Briar pipe attached to a collegiate-looking man (you remember your philosophy TA, right?) slouching over his papers outside of a hip little coffee shop. I entered the shop (and why not?) and ordered a $2 coffee from Zanzibar, or Darjeeling, or somewhere weird. It tasted like it was from 7-11.

I sat savoring my exotic, free-trade java and listening to the nearby A.A. group swap stories about their time in rehab and psyche-wards until my thoughts drifted inward (caffeine does weird things to my brain). Anyway, after a few mental adventures, I settled on the unavoidable issue in my life right now: Change.

Alaina and I are moving in a month. Correction: I’m moving in a month and Alaina is following me a month after that (It’s a long story, and my hand is already cramping from this primitive pen-to-paper method of communication, so I’ll spare the details). When I say moving, I’m not talking down the street. More like half way across the country, back home. I say that, and yet, Yorktown, VA is the only home we’ve known in our 2 years of marriage. When we moved here, it was just the two of us and 1,000 miles of adventure. Since then, we’ve built our honeymoon life at the beach. Hey, Virginia is for lovers, right?

So we made our friends, found our favorite sushi place, and joined an amazing church family. All just in time to have a violent reality check and find ourselves feeling lost and confused. In the end, we decided it was time to return to the land of our fathers: Missouri.

In anticipation of our pilgrimage, we decided to take our first real vacation in 2 years. It was to be a trip to OBX. For those of you not in the know, OBX stands for the Outer Banks, and it’s the pride of North Carolina. Secluded beaches, quaint fishing villages, and put-put golf. So we packed what we needed for a week of fun (or what a normal couple would need to survive on Gilligan’s Island) and made the 3-hour tour south. Needless to say, the trip was amazing, complete with hot sun, cold waves, pool volleyball, a lighthouse, a ferry, a beach bonfire (complete with hotdogs and local campfire tales), and general lethargy. But an unexpected addition worked its way into the lining: The adventures of one Thomas Sawyer. I brought the book with me for some light beach reading, but it turned out to be a little more than that. For those of you who don’t know, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is from Missouri, so most of his writing embraces the culture and history of the “Show-Me State.” More than that, he nurtures the Missouri wilderness that my heart has silently longed for in my time away.

Thus, my carefree OBX vacation was tinged with a newfound longing for those things I once embraced as part of myself. Since then, my thoughts and emotions have been various, to say the least. In fact, it would take more daylight than I currently have at my disposal to fully explain my joys and anxieties over the upcoming move. In fact, I had better wrap this up. It’s getting dark and my keys will be here soon.

Back at the coffee shop, I finished my caffeine-bomb just in time to see the first raindrops fall. I promptly pushed in my chair and made my return with all the speed my flip-flops would afford me. By the time I found shelter in the garage, my notepad was soaked and my pen was lost somewhere on the streets of downtown Norfolk. Determined to record my “blog fodder,” I shamelessly entered the children’s hospital and asked the receptionist if I could have a pen.

“Here, you can use this one.”

“Um, I kind of need to steal it.” Please don’t ask why. 

“That’s alright,” she said with a smile.

I guess you have to be nice to work in a children’s hospital. Lucky for me. Outside, the rain had stopped, so I found a dry patch of grass to call home and set pen to paper.

I’ve been making a lot of decisions and feeling relatively secure in them lately. Then I locked my keys in my car. There’s nothing like 4 hours of unexpected free time to humble an overconfident mind. The last two years have been amazing. I don’t regret my time here. I’ll miss my work, my church family, my friends, the beach, and the HRBT (just kidding about that last one), but it’s time for Alaina and I to go home.

Ready or not, here we come.

Our OBX luggage
The OBX crew
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse