They say, “timing is everything,” or, “you have to be in the right place at the right time”. I guess that summarizes our Pagosa Springs experience last month.
I promised a while ago to post about that experience, but have been struggling with it and can’t put my finger on exactly why. I’ve started it at least a dozen times, but have tossed it in the trash each and every time. This time? I’m bound and determined to finish it. So here we go …
Frank and I went back to Colorado last month for one reason: to see two friends, Keith and Warren. I’ll get back to Warren in our next episode.
Keith and I went to school in NJ together from 2nd to 10th grade. His invitation came out of the blue … back when we put up our help request at youcaring.com, another dear friend, Donna, forwarded it on to all our former NJ classmates. As a result, I got this email out of the blue:
Hello from Pagosa Springs. I have a spare bedroom in a wonderful home on the lower Blanco. I live alone, the house is not quite an earthship, but a passive solar home. If you and Frank want a roof over your heads, a warm fire to sit around, soaking in the hot springs, you are welcome to come and spend some time. Give me a call. Keith
Keith and I hadn’t spoken in 40 years, so I was dumbstruck by the invitation. So I called hiss number. First off, I couldn’t believe that we were in Pagosa Springs and didn’t run into each other. I was even more surprised when he said that he knew the owners of the campground I stayed at last summer and was over there on a regular basis to buy eggs! And we still didn’t run into each other!
Now I wasn’t planning on being in Colorado this year. We were headed either to the Great Lakes or back east, the latter winning out when we were able to buy the Nutshell. I thought about stopping in Colorado on the way back from picking it up in southern California … just a quick stop to see Keith and Warren, another old high school friend from Dallas. Warren and his wife Dinah live in Colorado Springs and had stopped by twice when we were in Colorado last summer. I wanted to see them again, too. Of course, the Colorado detour went out the window when my finger was crushed by the trailer hitch and we had to head directly back to Texas.
I thought that would be it, but then Keith mentioned in a later email that he had decided to quit his day job, move to Hawaii and buy into an organic farm. I figured our only chance to get together would be before that happened. So, after consulting with Frank (his only question was, “I’ll keep getting fed, right?”), I decided to take a quick 2 1/2 week detour, first to Pagosa Springs, then on to Colorado Springs before heading to Fort Wayne, IN to see my brother.
So we arrived back in Pagosa Springs in early April. And this is where I start having trouble figuring out what exactly to write about this experience.
Keith is a interesting guy. Sort of a renaissance man. He has a pretty wide variety of interests … and has delved deep into many of them. He has a wall filled with lift tickets and annual passes to the Wolf Creek Ski Area and other nearby ski areas. We had a late-season snow while I was there and Keith spent two days skiing, undaunted by the knee brace he now has to wear while enjoying his favorite sport.
Music is another of his interests. One of the rooms in his home is filled with old vinyl records – a collection that rivals all that I’ve seen with one exception (which happens to be the collection amassed by Donna’s late husband, Allen). We sat up listening to old records on multiple occasions while I was there … everything from old Willie Nelson to Dan Fogelberg (whose widow lives just over the ridge from Keith) to Chuck Mangione to It’s a Beautiful Day. Keith has a small collection of ukeleles and other stringed instruments, too.
His home is very “zen”, and I’m not just referring to the thousand or so Tibetan prayer flags that fly in Keith’s yard. His house flows – from a big kitchen into a dining area and then into a sitting area. Note that they’re “areas” … not really rooms per se. And all along the south wall, there are floor to ceiling windows. A two-foot wide section of river rock lies all along the bottom of the windows where Keith tends to plants, flowers and a big tub filled with goldfish. The walls are painted deep reds, grey-blues and yellows: he said they’re the colors used in Buddhist temples.
The yard is filled trees, shrubs and rocks – piles of balanced rocks that Keith stacked as part of a meditation ritual. I asked him if he was a practicing Buddhist. He sort of laughed and said he was a “Catholic Methodist Buddhist agnostic atheist,” or something along those lines. Whatever his beliefs, they suit him well!
The guy is also an incredible chef and is very much into organic foods. I ate like a king while there and quite honestly I can’t remember half of what we had. Keith would take breaks from his office (he’s a customer support tech for a specialized software company with clients in the banking industry), walk out to the kitchen and just start whipping things up. We had bison topped with gorgonzola; polenta; chicken mixed with some sort of grain; homemade rice pudding; smoked salmon with cheese and organic something-or-other that again escapes my memory. He even brought out a bottle of homemade limoncello from his freezer … something else he decided to give a try.
Keith has his rituals, too … whether it’s taking walks in the middle of the day to clear his head or going over to the springs for a soak when he’s finished for the day. While I was there, he came back from a soak with business cards from two people he met. He’s active in community organizations, attends restaurant openings … he even offered to speak with the lama at the local Buddhist monastery to see about arranging a tour for me and a fellow “crossing the country in a teardrop” friend (who wound up not being able to make it to Pagosa Springs as we had tentatively arranged). He is definitely a “people person”!
Now, I don’t mean to make this post into a “Keith is the Dude” lovefest. His lifestyle did make quite an impression on me, though. I think that’s because he is the antithesis to what I had become over the five years prior to going out on the road with Frank. I mean, here’s a guy with a wide variety of interests, who has no problem meeting and dealing with people, and who enjoys his life to the fullest. I mean, it’s 180 degrees from the life I had been living! I had basically given up on people, had walled myself up in an apartment that I was afraid to leave and had completely abandoned any of the things I had enjoyed doing, including cooking!
I mentioned it to him the second night we were there, that I was truly taken in by how happy he seems to be, and how comfortable he is in his own skin. His answer was, “It’s taken a lot of work to get to there.”
And I can understand that. After having been on the road for so long … after spending so much time in the mornings doing meditation and Bible study … after so much introspective writing in my diary … after working so many exercises on changing perspective, I can understand that it can take work. And God bless those of you who haven’t had to struggle to be happy. I hope you’re not taking that for granted.
Which brings us back to the beginning of this post – the thing about “timing”. The brief time Keith and I spent together was a true blessing. It allowed me to see “possibilities”. How someone can align their lifestyle for happiness. How someone can counter the crappy elements of their day (“Customer Support” folks have to deal with a continual amount of bullshit) and not let it weight them down or take away their joy.
Now let’s say Keith and I ran into each other last summer when he was over to the Last Resort picking up eggs. I don’t know that I would have been able to see what I needed to see a couple of weeks ago. Back then, I was still onedge from starting out on our little road adventure. If anything, I might have felt jealous of how happy he was … or I might have felt worse about myself, thinking that I was incapable of anything close to “being happy” and what a loser I am.
But that’s not the case. Our visit came at a point where I was on an uptick towards feeling happy. To feeling better about myself. To seeing possibilities beyond suicide as a way out of a totally unhappy life.
Last summer, when Warren visited us in Pagosa Springs with his wife, Dinah, he made a casual remark about “taking a break while I figure out the next part of my life.” At the time, I commented in the blog about it, saying that while he threw it out there almost offhandedly, Warren’s comment made me think: perhaps there is something to follow this journey that Frank and I are on. Last summer, I don’t think I could have processed anything more than that.
One thing leads to another. Last year’s Pagosa experience was a stepping stone to last month’s Pagosa experience. It’s easy to see that last year’s entire road experience has been a foundation for what’s happening this year. I’m grateful for the timing.