I was driving back to Canmore from the city last week, and offered this young guy a lift. Mid-twenties, smack in the middle of that time of life. A long-term relationship just ended, with new job choices to make, he was heading to collect his damage deposit, his car, and the last of his belongings. About to move away from the town he and two generations before him had called home. He said he felt like he had just jumped off a cliff.
It was one of those precious September days; clear, warm, and more summery than any day in July. Sun poured into the car, and we opened the sunroof to enjoy the heat soaked breeze. It didn’t feel like fall, there was no crisp impetus for change. The day begged for a return to a summer that was already slipping away.
My traveling companion had a stomach in knots. He felt like puking, he said. He acknowledged it was emotion roiling around in there, and he could even name it – grief, fear, worry, perhaps regret. No room yet for excitement or hope. It was as physical a manifestation as anything, and it hurt.
So we talked. Not about the big future out there, beyond the front ranges, or the wonderful potential waiting on the other side of the divide. We talked of the possibilities available in the next hour. This was his one and only day of departure. It was, it occurred to us, the symbolic threshold between his youth and a yet unimagined future. I wondered out loud what it might be like to create a simple ceremony before he left town. What it might be like to write down on a piece of paper, perhaps, one thing to let go, that has served up to now, and then release it into the river. The river that flowed east, away from the direction he was moving.
A range of emotion passed over his face, but I registered two things: surprise that comes from an unexpected and completely fresh insight, followed by the faint beginnings of a smile.
I opened the email some hours later. “I’ve just finished my ceremony,” it said. “It got my heart racing. It felt good. I watched the paper travel away and sink under the water. After that a big osprey flew by in front of me and skimmed the water and landed across the river from me. It felt symbolic. It was a beautiful experience.”
A simple act of ceremony, in a complex world.
It’s easy to make a suggestion. What’s harder is to act, to follow the goosebumps when they appear, and take the step of faith forward that roots us in the here and now. What’s not easy is to let go of the unknowable future, and return to this moment.
As I write this, on the very brink of launching a new business, and what is surely to be the next amazing chapter in my life, on another still sunny day in September, I have butterflies in my stomach, too. Wondering what, and who, I’ll meet across this great divide. Wondering if I’ll be up for the task. Worrying, and wondering and imagining what’s next. My mind awhirl with thoughts and to-dos.
My young friend said in his email, “thanks for everything”.
And now I am thanking him. For his willingness to step into an unfamiliar place. For the action he took that inspires my action today.
I’m on my way down to the river.