Thursday, October 26, 2006 ~ Hillsville, Virginia
I walk into Shoney's Restaurant joyful and grateful for my life and journey. Although dinner isn't very good, the server is so outgoing and heartful, his energy is all the food I need.
As I get up to leave, though, my mood undergoes a 180-degree shift.
Suddenly, I feel out of place, displaced...perhaps even misplaced. Suddenly, I don't know how I fit in, where I belong. Suddenly, I feel lost.
Yes, I'm without a conventional home. But that isn't new. This feeling is.
I step out into the cooling Hillsville night. It's dark now and nothing is familiar.
Nothing is familiar....
Nothing is familiar!
I've covered lots of territory in 23 months -- 38 states, to be precise, many of them multiple times.
Recently, though, many of the roads have been familiar ones. This was my fifth visit to Michigan, for example.
With so much else in my life so unsettled, it's been reassuring to know where I am, to know my way around, as I do now in southern Michigan and quite a few other parts of the country.
Hillsville is different. I've never been this far south in Virginia. Nor have I ever driven through the Carolinas, Georgia or Alabama, my anticipated direction in coming days.
Put another way, I'm about to venture into new states...and not only States of the Union.
The disorientation I feel in this moment is perfect. It's a direct consequence of breaking old patterns and new ground.
It's heralding the new beginning I knew my visit to Canada would initiate,
It's not comfortable. But that discomfort is now balanced with understanding and excitement.
If I have a sense of the states I'll be traveling to, I don't yet know what they will look or how they will feel.
It's all new territory I'm driving into, diving into -- in every aspect of my life.
From those new states, my life will never look the same again.
Photo by Mark David Gerson: the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Hillsville, Virginia
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Thursday, October 26, 2006 ~ Hillsville, Virginia
Monday, October 23, 2006 ~ Champlain, New York
I feel a certain apprehension as I approach the border crossing at Champlain. The last time I crossed into the U.S., at Baudette, Minnesota nine and a half years ago, I looked suspicious enough to warrant an hour-plus vehicle search.
A few years later my U.S. green card application was nearly turned down because my then-wife lacked sufficient income to act as my financial sponsor.
So, despite my valid green card and Canadian passport, not to mention the New Mexico plates on my car, I'm a bit nervous during the 15-minute wait.
But like the crossing into Canada last week, this one involves little more than a few questions and a document and trunk check. Before I know it I'm through.
Before I even have a chance to acknowledge the return to miles, gallons and greenbacks, a little voice whispers in my ear: Welcome home.
I feel a catch in my throat, a welling up of emotion.
Yes, the U.S. is now my home and this is a powerful acknowledgment of my connection with the land here.
But it's more than that. By revisiting my past and freeing my ghosts, I'm more at home within myself. Truly, there's no better place to come home to.
Monday, October 23, 2006 ~ Montreal, Quebec
Its raining as I pull out of the hotel's underground garage and make my way to the Champlain Bridge. Another bridge, this time taking me off the Island of Montreal and south toward the border.
Like Lot's wife, I can't help but glance back at the city I'm leaving behind as I cross the bridge.
Unlike Lot's wife, there's nothing to see.
A mist-like veil shrouds the city, its mountain and skyline. Montreal has vanished...as if all that it was for me was another ghost that has now moved on.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 ~ Montreal, Quebec
My first night in Montreal... another journey back in time.
As I walk the rainy two miles to my hotel from dinner, my mind wanders past the familiar landmarks of my hometown to my first night back in Toronto, a few days and many lifetimes ago...
I'm eating dinner with a friend at a Chinese restaurant around the corner from my old Toronto apartment.
From my table by the window, I'm aware of an earlier me sitting across the restaurant at another table, with another friend from another time. Then I glance out the window and see multiple other incarnations of myself walking along Yonge Street.
Ghosts. My first hours in Toronto were filled with them.
This first night in Montreal has even more. And they're older. Ghosts of nearly three decades of my life prowl these streets. More await me tomorrow when I see my sister...when I step inside the house we grew up in...when I travel the paths of my childhood.
I've done all this before. After I moved to Toronto in 1983 -- most particularly after my mother passed eight months later -- every trip back to Montreal has been like this, steeped in memories. New ones each time, even as I visit the same old places.
Yet this time is different. This time I'm surrounded by ghosts.
They say ghosts are spirits who are stuck between planes, not free to move to the next world because they have not completed something in this one.
Is that what this time travel is about for me? Not exorcising my ghosts but bringing them to the kind of completion that will release them, and me, to move forward?
I feel that most palpably in this neighborhood where I spent the first eight years of my adult life.
I'm walking with detached curiosity, checking things out, when panic suddenly grips me in a vise so tight I can barely breathe. In this moment, all I want to do is get out of Montreal, as quickly as possible.
It's a ghost. One I never knew was there. And it terrifies me.
I steady my breathing and keep walking. In the dark. In the rain.
I long for escape but know there is none. I know this is the ghost that brought me back here today.
It's the same ghost that pushed me out of Montreal, always made it uncomfortable for me to visit and was one of the foundation stones of my resistance to this trip back.
It's name is Not Enough and it has haunted me in various guises all my life.
When I least expect it, that ghost triggers the feeling that what I'm doing can never measure up, that what I am can never be enough.
That ghost was born here, in Montreal, and even as it travels with me, this city is its home.
If you're not Canadian, you may not know that French is the dominant language in Montreal and all of Quebec. My French is far from perfect.
This means that every time I speak French here, I feel inadequate. Not enough.
My language skills aren't the cause of these feelings. Rather, they're a constant reminder of their presence.
It's uncomfortable. Painfully so.
I see now why I had to move away. I see now why I'm back.
This ghost is ready to complete its transition. We're both ready to move on.
Only I can free it. Only by freeing it can I free myself.
Part of that liberation is the realization. Part of it are these words.
In the opening of my novel, The MoonQuest, the main character is an old man, reluctant to write his story. Yet he knows that only by doing so will he be freed to "move on to other realms, set off on other journeys."
Acknowledging my ghosts and letting them go frees me to do the same, makes it possible for me to cross a bridge more significant still than the Blue Water Bridge into Canada I wrote about last week. It's a bridge that spans my entire time in this country.
It's a bridge that opens me to the new life and new adventures that await me on the other side.
Art by Mark David Gerson: Ville Marie, Montreal (#107). To view my art/energy portraits of Toronto (#106), click here.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 ~ Montreal, Quebec
I mentioned in Foreign Exchange my attraction to "master numbers." Or is it their attraction to me...?
As I check into my hotel room on the 11th floor, the bedside clock reads 3:33 p.m.
Something powerful is waiting for me here in Montreal. It's in the the numbers.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Wednesday, October 17, 2006 ~ Toronto, Ontario
As I drive through the city to Hwy. 401, my route out of Toronto and eastward to Montreal, I gain a new understanding of the phrase,there's no place like home.
In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy repeats it three times and it takes her back to Kansas. It takes her home.
For Dorothy it's an acknowledgment that no place, even Oz, can match the magnetic pull of where she came from.
For me, after two and a half days in the metropolis that was my home for a dozen years, it's the final nail in the coffin of my old concept of home. There's no place anymore that is the kind of home I once knew: a place where I felt rooted, grounded and secure. A place I could nest into. A place I could be from.
My first response to Toronto after nearly a decade was that we'd grown apart, the city and I. As I drove in and, later, walked around -- rubbernecking all the way -- I felt that I could never live here.
Without warning, though, the strangeness morphed into a kind of familiarity, the familiarity into a kind of nostalgia.
At first I mistook it for an opening to return, to live here again. And why not? I loved being able to walk places, to be free of the car. I loved the diversity, the buzz. I loved being some place where my history spanned longer than a hotel night, where I had friends with whom I shared a common cultural vocabulary.
Yet all the while something nagged at me about those feelings. Something wasn't quite right. I just couldn't identify it.
Today, my time here complete, I realize that my nostalgia isn't for Toronto and my friends here. It's for a concept of home that once felt so comfortably familiar. That once felt so safe.
I realize that Toronto is the last place I felt at home in that way, perhaps the only place I ever felt at home in that way.
I realize that there's no place like that kind of home anymore. I've sensed it for some time. Today I feel it. Today I know it.
Today I shed it to make way for whatever my new concept of home will be.
I don't know yet what that is. It may not even be place-centered.
I do know that wherever I land, for however long that is, home will never be the same.
There's no place like home was. There is a place for what home is becoming.
Photo by Mark David Gerson: Toronto's CN Tower
Friday, October 13, 2006 ~ Woodstock, Ontario
I'm about 95 miles -- er, 150 km -- into Canada when I pull into a Woodstock bank to exchange some U.S. cash for Canadian.
I've always loved numbers and I'm particularly partial to what, in numerology, are called master numbers (numbers with repeating digits, like 11, 44, etc.). So it seems extra significant when the teller takes my $100 in U.S. cash and hands me the Canadian equivalent: $111.11.
Friday, October 13, 2006 ~ Port Huron, Michigan
As I drive across the Blue Water Bridge that links Port Huron, Michigan with Sarnia, Ontario, I listen to these song lyrics on my car's CD player:
There is a bridge that you can cross
On the other side is freedom
I don't know who's singing or even the name of the song. It was a compilation of unidentified inspirational songs gifted to me when I left Sedona in December 2004. And I play it whenever, in my travels, I cross a bridge of significance.
This is a bridge of significance.
I have not been in my native Canada since July 1997, when, on a similar if shorter journey, my car tugged me south out of Ontario and into Minnesota.
I never planned to leave and, having left, never expected to be gone for nearly a decade.
Now here I am, nervously approaching Canadian customs, still feeling some of the tugs of resistance I wrote about a few days ago in Revelation.
A few official questions, a glance at my passport, green card and license plate and I'm waved through.
Even as I struggle to reacquaint myself with kilometers and degrees Celsius, I feel a rush of emotion. I'm crying.
Is it a wave of affection for my long, lost homeland?
Or is it a realization that my homeland is no longer home?
In a paradoxical way, it's both.
Although I've never been to this part of Ontario, there's a longing for it to feel familiar, to resonate as home.
Instead, much has conspired to make this feel foreign.
My cell provider has me on a foreign calling plan. My credit/debit cards will be adding a 3% foreign-exchange charge to my Canadian transactions. My auto insurer insists I carry a foreign-travel insurance card.
Then there's the whole metric thing. I was pretty conversant with liters 'n meters when I crossed into the U.S. Now, it feels, well, foreign, as do Canadian banknotes, redesigned since I last saw one.
And although I've rarely been able to identify my own Canadian accent (obvious to any American when I utter a word ending in out), I now hear it all around me and it sounds, well, foreign.
So, what is "home"?
I've explored that word/concept at great depth during my two years of nonstop travel. I sense I'll be going even deeper with it during my time here.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 ~ Warren, Michigan
You can't go home again.
~ Thomas Wolfe, 1934
It's late. Past midnight. So it really is Wednesday, not Tuesday.
I've been back from tonight's sound initiation event for a couple of hours but I'm too tired to go to sleep, not an uncommon experience after a live event or teleconference.
I'm also still awake because of a revelation I had a while ago.
Yesterday in Flagging Resistance, I wrote about my adventures with my auto insurer and the mystery resistance that had lifted sufficiently to get me the last bit of paperwork I needed to drive in Canada.
Well, if emotion is an accurate polygraph, I seem to have discovered at least one aspect of the mystery.
It happened while was on the phone with a Toronto friend, batting around possible causes for whatever anxiety had been causing my resistance.
Was I afraid I would have difficulty getting back into the U.S.? Possibly. I've certainly had some experiences to support that anxiety.
Was I afraid I'd have such a great time revisiting my roots that I wouldn't want to come back? Less likely, but still possible.
And then the aha! that was more than a possible point of resistance. It was the piece de resistance.
I realized that, for me, Toronto is like the emergency stash of cash some people keep in the back of a drawer or closet. As long as they know it's there, they feel safe. It's a security blanket, never to be pulled out, other than to reassure themselves that it's still present for them.
What would happen, though, if they opened that closet or drawer and the money was gone?
What happen to me if, in visiting Toronto, I realized that returning there was no longer an option, that it could no longer function as my security blanket...that I no longer had any safety net?
As soon as I spoke those words aloud, I felt a catch in my throat...was close to tears...knew I had touched the truth.
I knew, too, why it was so important to make the trip.
A few months ago, when considering a Canadian visit, an inner voice told me I would be returning "to say goodbye."
It wasn't until last night that I understood what that meant.
As Thomas Wolfe put it 72 years ago, I can't go home again. I can't because what I perceive to be home lost that designation on June 19, 1997, the day I drove away.
Yet as long as part of me continues to cling to that onetime home as an emergency hatch, I will never be fully free to move forward because one foot will always be anchored in the past.
There's a scene in my novel The MoonQuest where the new king bows before his father, who has abdicated in his son's favor.
Distressed, the old king pulls his son to his feet.
"Do not bow to me, my son. I stand here as the past, and you must never worship the past. ... Honor me by living your own reign, by learning the lessons I could not. ... Don't let your vision linger longingly on the past. Let it go, my son. Let it go."
We all have bits of the past we worship, however unconsciously. We all have old places, attitudes, behaviors and relationships we cling to, just in case. We all feel better flying with a net.
What I learned last night, and continue to learn, is that there are no safety nets, no security blankets, no emergency exits and no secret stashes that can save me. There is only this moment and the currency of faith, which will always sustain me, protect me and keep me moving forward.
What I learned is that any tether to the past prevents me from soaring...flying free...savoring the adventure of the moment. And that even one toe stuck in the old home prevents me from living fully, passionately and prosperously in the new one.
Photo by Mark David Gerson: Death Valley, California
Tuesday, October 10 ~ Warren, Michigan
I was in Brookfield, Wisconsin last week, enjoying the last of autumn's warmth on a morning walk. As I looked ahead to a break in the trees, a Canadian flag fluttered in an evergreen frame.
Oh, I thought, maybe I will go to Canada when I'm done in Detroit next week.
See, I'd been wondering for weeks in which direction to point my Mercury Monterey when my final scheduled event was done on October 12. Canada -- where I lived until nine years ago when another vehicle pulled me south, into the United States -- had been an on-again, off-again option for some time.
Yesterday, feeling the power of a visit to land of my birth, I finally decided to do it.
And then I realized something. The Canadian insurance card I had requested weeks ago had never turned up. Driving in Canada without it was a risk I wasn't prepared to take.
So I called my insurer, explained the situation and asked if they would overnight one to me at their expense, given that it had been their error.
"Of course we'll overnight it," the customer service rep said. "But we won't pay for it."
I argued, whined and bitched, but to no avail. So I let it go. Not meant to be, I figured.
Sunday night, feeling as though something within me had shifted, I decided to give it another go.
This time, I explained the situation and asked the rep to mail the card to me at my Detroit hotel, gambling that it would arrive in time.
"Wait a minute," he said.
A long minute later he returned. "Give me your address. We'll overnight it to you."
This morning it arrived...at the insurance company's expense.
We're not always conscious of the resistance we carry. Nor are we always conscious when it lifts.
Somewhere in that 24-hour period, something shifted. Somewhere in that 24-hour period, I shifted, and the resistance I couldn't see dissolved.
Friday or Saturday I'll cross the U.S.-Canada border for the first time in nine years. It will be a journey across not an old border, but a new one, as I re-experience both who I was from the perspective of who I am now, and who I am now from the perspective of who I was.
I'm guessing it will be quite the trip!
There's more about this upcoming visit in my latest newsletter, The Currency of Faith
Monday, October 9, 2006 ~ Williamston, Michigan
When you make the two into one...and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male shall not be male, and the female shall not be female:...then you will enter [the kingdom].
— Jesus, The Gospel of Thomas
I wasn't aware of these words, attributed to Jesus, when I wrote Free to Love, Free to Be last month.
Nor had I heard them when I began my long-overdue drawing of the Teton Mountains ten days ago.
As with many of the manifestations of sacred America that have called to me over the past 22 months, the Teton Mountains pulled me to them without revealing why.
Yes, their majesty is breathtaking. And, yes, their granite profile against the deep blue of a Wyoming sky filled me with awe.
But it wasn't until I finished this drawing that I recognized, not only why these mountains were so important to me, but why an experience of their energy had eluded me until July.
And it wasn't until today, when a friend here shared with me the above quote from the Gospel of Thomas, that it all came together.
My first view of the Tetons, and the one I ultimately chose to draw, was from Idaho’s Route 32. From that rarely photographed perspective, the mountains are soft and rounded, dramatically different from the jagged, sharper edges that pierce the sky on the east side of the range in Grand Teton National Park.
When the drawing was nearly done, I had a large empty space in the lower right-hand corner. I stared at it for a long time, willing inspiration to strike. It did, in a surprising way.
I filled the space with a sketch of the Tetons from the park perspective.
Still, I didn't see what had birthed through me.
And then, the Aha! as I recognized one perspective as feminine and the other as masculine, as I glimpsed the implications of displaying both on the same drawing.
Same mountains. Different perspective. Equal force. All one.
Together, those two innate forces carry infinitely more power than either could project on its own.
We, too, carry those twin perspectives within us. The Teton Mountains remind us of that and call on us to access both aspects, masculine and feminine, as the source of our power. Jesus reminds us to blend and merge them equally into our beingness.
Before July I wasn't ready for the activation the Tetons performed on me. Before this drawing, I wasn't ready to see it. Before today's quote, I couldn't understand why it was so important to embody it.
Photos/Art by Mark David Gerson
#1-My drawing of the Teton Mountains
#2-Teton Mountains: View from the Idaho
#2-Teton Mountains: View from the Grand Teton National Park
Saturday, September 30 ~ Brookfield, Wisconsin
I'm driving north on Calhoun, on my way to do a private session when I pass this half-hidden sign near an apparently not-so-level crossing.
Truly, a sign of the times...
Photo by Mark David Gerson