Lost at Home

A few days ago as I was driving Kait to work, she asked me a perfectly ordinary question that shook me to my core and caused me to question almost everything about my life. We were talking about our ever-evolving plans for the future, about passion and motivation. We discussed our plans to train service dogs full time. Kait said that working with animals is not an option for her; she would be miserable if she had to stop. And then she asked me – quite sincerely – “Is there something in your life that you just have to do? Something that just compels you every day?” Keep in mind, this is my best friend – my partner in life of ten years, the person who probably knows me better than my own mother – essentially asking what makes me tick.

And I didn’t have an answer.

Maybe 10:45 in the morning was too early for contemplating such a question. Or maybe I’ve never had an answer. My whole life, I haven’t really known what to do with myself. I “lack focus.” I “daydream frequently.” This general lack of direction in my life is probably a big reason why the idea of walking across America took hold so quickly once it entered my mind. I may not know what to do with my entire life, but putting one foot in front of the other for nine months? I could wrap my head around that.

It has been said (by someone who is probably at least a little bit smarter than myself) that nobody who drops the rest of their life to walk across a continent is “happy.” I think another common denominator of people who just walk out on the whole damn game is that they do not have a personally satisfying answer to the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” Some of us have been lost since birth; others lose their way somewhere along the path. One day you look up from the sidewalk and you don’t recognize the streets that you’re living on, or the faces and voices of the people in your life, or the habits you’ve been taking for granted, or the lines and creases etching into your face, or the unfamiliar thoughts in your own head. And then your wife asks you, “What do you want to do with your life?” And so you ask yourself, but all you can come up with is, “Who’s asking the question?

Conner Oberst of Bright Eyes put it this way: “My compass spins, the wilderness remains.” Wilderness indeed, Conner. But where does that leave me? What drives me? What can I not live without? I meditated on these questions yesterday while catching up on a summer’s worth of weeding, pruning, and mulching in our backyard. The best I could do was to come up with a list of mundane things that I do almost every day; but that really doesn’t answer the question. I pondered on, catching myself every time I started to fall into egoistic, emotional traps of self-doubt and criticism, letting each wave of panic and existential anxiety wash over me and dissipate. I came back to a zen mantra that has been a point of reference for me as of late:

“From where have I come, and to where am I going?”

For me, this question has become a mental tool that helps me ground myself in the present moment, while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to re-frame my current location or predicament. The answer may be as simple as “I came from my house and I am going to work.” However, physical orientation in space and time is only one part of the answer. I am also coming and going to and from mental states, emotions, pockets of imaginative delight and wonder…the list goes on. The answer to the first half of the question – “From where have I come?” – is always predetermined; but the second half – “to where am I going?” – affords me the opportunity to define a personal trajectory that I may have overlooked. I am coming from frustrated and I am going to…where? Calm? Calm sounds good.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe I can’t define what drives me because I haven’t found it yet. Or maybe I once had it, but let it slip through my fingers among the currents of an ever-evolving world so cacophonous and profane that it drives men to madness. So now my question shifted from “What do I have in my life that means something?” to “What am I missing right now that motivates me?” I know the top of my list is travel. I crave new places, new sights, new experiences. I long for those moments where, quite suddenly, I find myself in a place unfamiliar. I long to document such times and places in my life. I long to share my experiences with my brothers and sisters, to stoke the vicarious fires of our collective consciousness. There was a time…

It has been more than a year since I have written here – to you – to us. In that time, not a single day has passed without me thinking about writing again. I think about writing this blog and a book and a couple of screenplays every single day. I often think of the people who hung on our words and images for a brief year of wonder and unknown possibility, riding along with us as we embarked on an experience that was just too vast to keep to ourselves. Every day, I think about the therapeutic way that writing can help me connect to and better understand myself, while I pretend to write to anybody else.

So what happened? Why did I stop writing? Why haven’t I bothered to post even a photo of my dog, just to let our friends know how we are?

As is often the case, the truth is both simple and complicated. Simply put: For much of the last two years of my life I was very depressed, and I was too ashamed of myself to share it with anyone.

It didn’t happen all at once. I was still glowing from the Walk for the first couple of months after we settled back into Louisville. I was sad that it was all over, but I was hopeful about the future. But the truth is that coming home from the walk was a full blown break-up with the most fulfilling way of life I have ever experienced. It is over. There is no going back. Every time you turn a page, the book will never be the same. It will never again be what it once was.

I struggled to find steady work that didn’t drive me crazy. Suddenly, I felt eclipsed by bills and responsibilities and the expectations of others. I spent many afternoons just kind of pacing around my house, tidying this or that, trying to figure out what I “should” be working on. I wanted to dig into the blog and keep writing, maybe start to pull the pieces together for a photo book about the experience; but it hurt too much to even look at the website, let alone roll up my sleeves and get to work on a tell-all memoir. My life suddenly felt too small to be worth sharing. I started neglecting my health and I knew I was doing it – and I kept doing it anyway. Week after week I worked a little and just sat on the couch, eating and applying for jobs and staring into the leering TV. I stopped sleeping regularly, unable to quiet my racing mind at night and then unable to motivate myself to move in the mornings. First a week passed, and then two, and now it’s almost 2015 and I haven’t written a real word in over a year and we are still rocketing around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour.

But hey, who’s counting? After all, it’s really only a matter of perspective. And so I try to calm myself, center myself, re-frame that which overwhelms me into a map that I can use to navigate my path through this life. I try to remember that I have been pretty blessed since birth in more ways than I can count. I have a loving family and a wife who inspires me every day. I have a job and I’m not hungry or crushed by a mountain of debt. All of my problems are manageable problems. From where have I come, and to where am I going? Today, I am coming from a sense of loss. Now, I am going to count my blessings.

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23 Responses to Lost at Home

  1. Sarah says:

    Our beloved dog blog friends! We think of you often. Our own life changing journey would not have been possible without your inspiration, guidance and generosity. I feel the same sense of restlessness post-trip. If you ever need to bug out, come to Michigan! Just know that the pebble you dropped in the water is still rippling outwards, changing the world in unexpected ways.

  2. Jenny Syverson Wistey says:

    John,
    For much of the last 5 years my husband and I have been hoping to have a baby, but we eventually figured out we medically can’t. This has been so hard. Processing everything, coming through, getting ready for adoption has taken a lot of emotional strength, and I have definitely dealt with depression. I sympathize, empathize, and applaud you for your courage in writing this post. It makes sense to me that when you finished the walk, in a sense, you lost it. Finding a new way after a dear dream ends is very very hard. I believe that you will find it. Lots of love to you and Kait… Jenny and Dexter

  3. Wayne Savage says:

    Who am I and what do I do? I am no one and I do nothing [significant].
    I cannot tell you what to do although you tell me; when you write – I read.
    I read, I enjoy, I live vicariously through you.
    If you write a book I’ll buy it (you’ve already written it, John). If you write a screenplay I will spend a night in a theater.
    You have power with your words, they are captivating, well formed, interesting, fun; they take me places that I don’t have the courage or the breath or the shoes to go on my own. You are my “Kinship with All Life” author (John Allen, 1954) that I read as a child about Strongheart the movie dog who communicated through telepathy.
    I can’t tell you what to do but when you write you command my time, my mind and my thoughts; and I like it, a lot!

    • John says:

      Wayne, I just ordered that book. I’ve never heard of it, but it looks right up my alley. Thanks for the support.

      And don’t kid yourself, brother. The work you do and energy you spread in the world takes great courage and perseverance. I know you have changed lives for the better.

  4. April says:

    I completely agree with Wayne’s comment above. And as someone once asked me, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

  5. lacie says:

    Friend, I feel you on this one more than you know, especially now that I’ve landed back in a limbo of sorts after spending three years in a career, city, partnership, life I really loved. I don’t know where I’m going next and I haven’t found the fire of passion for anything or anyplace that I so desperately want to find as I know that fire would make it much easier to lead a fulfilling life.

    And anyhow, I’ll support you in absolutely anything you choose to do. I bet there are an awful lot of other people out there who will do the same :)

    Xoxo

  6. Mom says:

    Write. It is interesting and moving. Unless, of course, another passion stirs you :) You are burdened with intelligence and talent, so many paths to choose. And you don’t have to choose just one. But write. It is a gift.

  7. John says:

    I posted this last night and woke up this morning to several comments that moved me to tears. I have felt so small since my days on the road. I’ve felt pettiness and defeat and fear seep back into the cracks in my life. My intuition has been clouded, my confidence shaken. I was afraid to write, afraid to share myself again. Reading these comments this morning, I feel the same overwhelming rush of emotions that I felt every day on the road. While I appreciate the compliments on my writing, please know that it is YOUR words, YOUR understanding, YOUR insight that is saving me, lifting me up right now. Thank you for being a part of it all.

  8. stephanie says:

    I LOVE you John. I Love your writing, your courage, your photography your vulnerability and your honesty. Let us encourage you, support you and Love you all the way through your re-discovery of the ‘little john’ that first appeared on this Earthen Ball, full of excitement for an earthly experience. For now, PLEASE continue your writing to us all…it lights our way and helps us to define the answers to our personal questions.

  9. Gail Pigion says:

    I do not have a gift of words as you do. I’m feeling many emotions right now, but its hard to express them in writing. Sharing your life life with us and your personal struggles, I admire so much and appreciate. It brought me to tears. I think it helps the rest of us who struggle with our own situations. Its nice to know we’re not alone. Thank you and please continue your writing.

  10. Rebecca says:

    John, your words are always thought provoking and inspiring. I have missed your postings about the trip and it’s nice to see you posting again. It’ like reuniting with long lost friends. I do hope you will continue writing and I REALLY think that you should talk to some publishers about turning your blog from the trip into a book. I know I would buy as would probably a lot of your followers and that would be enough just to get it started. Keep the words flowing and your feet taking one step in front of the other!

  11. Kris Gasteiger says:

    Wow, you write well. That is some powerful introspection.
    I met you when you passed through Bowie, MD on your journey, and followed your posts as you continued across the country.
    Since then, I’ve also found myself adrift, having retired… Some days are great and full of energy and direction, others are more like “Now what? Meh.”
    I putter with garage projects, garden, and look forward to the day we move to our farm so I can actually become the farmer I want to be. Self direction I am still learning.
    I’m sure you will find your way and your passions, and there may be many ways and passions. I know I have pursued many of my own. I hope one of your passions continues to be writing. Your essays are articulate and well thought and very readable. I’d love to read more.
    Wishing you the best,
    Kris.

  12. Saleem says:

    John, you are an amazing individual with superb writing skills, astounding sensitivity, keen observation skills and above all profound love of nature and God’s wonderful creatures. You have an extremely loving and caring partner and I know you both cherish one another. Please continue to use your gift of critical thinking and reflection and keep writing! Your blog is your book… may need little tweaking but I think it is ready for publishing!
    Love, always!!

  13. Tina says:

    Writing seems to be your calling. If it helps, know many others struggle like you. I drove by the place today where we(my kids and I) met you, your wife and dog. My youngest started all day school last month and I’m struggling trying to figure what to do with my time. Life seems funny in the way unforeseen circumstances or certain decisions shape our lives. My mom got sick just before I graduated college so I ended up staying home instead of taking off for somewhere after graduating. I wouldn’t have started dating my now husband if not for that. We decided to move back to IL after living in TX for 2 years and we probably wouldn’t have had our first kid. My husband took a new job in IL instead of me in UT, so I doubt we’d have our youngest. Decided it was best for me to stay home with the kids and it was a very lonesome “job” many days and was hard on may levels. Now I don’t know what makes me happy or what I should do next, but assume the answer will come eventually. I do love reading and would love to read a book that you wrote. You are inspiring.

  14. Shereen says:

    brother bear,
    how rude to make your baby sister cry at 4 pm on a thursday.
    that said, please keep doing it. please keep writing, sharing. you so beautifully put into words what all of us feel but cannot adequately describe.
    i’ve missed this. glad you’re back

  15. Cassie says:

    Thank you for articulating just how I myself have been feeling for the better part of 2 years. It’s nice to know I’m not at all alone in this overwhelming feeling of being lost, stuck, and without direction.

  16. Nelly Rahman says:

    Very nice quite “From where have I come, and to where am I going?”

    • John says:

      I came across this mantra in a film called Doomsday Book. In the second of three stories in the film, a robot working in a monastery claims to achieve enlightenment. As technicians try to determine if he is self-aware or just malfunctioning, he meditates on the mantras “Who am I?” and “From where have I come, and to where am I going?”

      The film is a little odd, but that middle story stands alone in my mind. Very powerful and thought-provoking. Find more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Book_%28film%29

      Thanks for reading!

  17. Alison W says:

    It took me a while to find time to write, but my thoughts are these: I have felt this same way after every move I’ve made, every state I left, every relationship I’ve abandoned. And as you know, I have lived in lots of places, I have lived lots of lives. I am a leaver. What I came to realize is that this is the second part of the same journey. People tend to think that a trip or adventure or journey ends when you return home, but that is simply not true. First you take an adventure, and then it takes you. It is always a two-part deal. The second part occurs when you return to your “normal” life and think the thing is over. That is when the the journey begins anew. You are on this second trip right now (the journey home, I call it, as opposed to the journey afar) – these feelings that you have are it. Eventually you realize that every major adventure comes with this second component, and yet, you will still accept the challenge and still take the journey. And you will be open to the unpredictability of the journey home, and you will survive it, whatever it is. And you will be better for it. For all of it.

    • John says:

      I love you, Ali. You’re an inspiration in both of our lives. We’re getting ready to accept the challenge and journey once again.

  18. Robin says:

    please keep writing, sharing. you so beautifully put into words what all of us feel but cannot adequately describe. thanks

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