Task for the day: Pack up and go home.
My last day at the center started off pretty darn amazing: at exactly 3:40 am (the time my alarm went off), I was waking from a dream.
The dream: It was late at night, and I was outside sitting in a circle, observing various stars, with – get this – Michael Stipe and Dave Grohl, and several members of their crew. There were probably a total of eight or so people there. I vividly remember thinking, “Wow, this is SO cool! I want to call Joel and invite him to come!” (Joel is a VERY big fan of Michael Stipe.) And while I didn’t say this out loud (in the dream), one of the crew people did look at me, then turned to me and said, “Stef, don’t think about anyone else. Just enjoy the ride.” So, I turned my attention to the circle, and I heard Michael and Dave talking – and they were talking about inner peace. Their definition? “Staying present, in the moment, with equanimity.”
And that was the very last thing I heard/experienced; then I woke up.
My eyes popped open, and it hit me: Today is the last day. Today I get to go home. Today I get to go home! HOME!!
And that single thought propelled me out of bed, and I was to be a bundle of frenetic energy for the next six hours.
From 3:45-4:30 am, I showered, dressed, dried my hair, finished packing my possessions, and cleaned my room and bathroom per the specifications of the center. (Please note I did all of these things in 45 minutes.)
At 4:30 am, I briskly walked (actually, I was nearly skipping/jogging) to the meditation hall, where I sat for our final “meditation” session. (And I put “meditation” in quotes because I was so far from being calm and present, it wasn’t even funny. My mind was COMPLETELY in the future, on planning out the next tasks I needed to finish in order to get the hell out of the center as quickly as possible – and my heart was racing and my legs were jumpy for the full 90 minutes of our sitting time. [Heck, my heart is racing right now just remembering that morning, and it was nearly 2 weeks ago!])
At 6:30 am the meditation session FINALLY ended (thank you sweet lord), and I dashed to the dining hall, where I acquired my breakfast food, sat down at the closest table I could find, and ate my meal – and all of this was done in about 15 minutes. (No exaggeration.) A few women around me wanted to linger and chat, and I weakly smiled at them and tried to explain as calmly as possible, “I’m not trying to be rude; but I have a 6-hour drive ahead of me, and I just want to get home and see my husband.” They completely understood, so I politely excused myself, then literally RAN to the dorm.
I kicked off my shoes (no shoes allowed in the dorm – along with many other rules that were still in effect), and literally RAN to my room – where I grabbed my car keys, and as many of my possessions as I could physically carry. I then literally RAN back to the dorm entrance, shoved my feet into my shoes, and RAN (as best I could, as I was carrying around 20 lbs of gear) to my car – where I opened the trunk, dumped everything in the back, slammed it shut, and then ripped open the door to the drivers seat.
I threw myself behind the steering wheel, put the key in the ignition, and quietly-but-intently said, “please please please please please please please please please …”, then turned the key. And after a few seconds of HARD grinding (the result of the car sitting in the cold outdoor air, untouched, for 11 days), the engine started. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!
I drove my car to the entrance of the dorm, threw it in park, ripped the key out of the ignition, opened the two car doors closest to the dorm, and then RAN-back-into-the-dorm-removed-my-shoes-ran-to-my-room-picked-up-as-much-stuff-as-I-could-carry-ran-back-to-my-shoes-shoved-my-feet-inside-them-ran-to-my-car-stuffed-my-possessions-anywhere-there-was-space-in-the-vehicle – then paused, for about half a second. One more iteration of the above (i.e., going to my room and collecting the final items I brought with me to then toss in the car), and my room was empty, my car was packed, and *I* was on the path headed HOME!!!!
But WAIT! I had to do a final community chore before I left. SHIT! I just want to get HOME!! I went to the dining hall, and looked at the man in charge with what must have sheer desperation (which it was), and I said, “I understand this is a volunteer organization; and I know the center needs to be made ready for the next wave of students who arrive in three days. I’m not trying to get out of work; I am willing to do whatever chore needs to be done. BUT – I am also DESPERATE to get home. Is there ANY way you can make my chore something that can be done as quickly as possible? I’ll do it – but I just really, REALLY want to go HOME!” I looked at him, pleadingly, and waited.
He looked at me, his face a little concerned, and he said, “Okay – how about you just wipe down these tables and chairs, and stack them against the wall, and then you can go. Will that work?”
Yes sir!! Boy, I threw on some yellow rubber gloves, grabbed a soapy rag, and went to TOWN on the task at hand. I think it took me about 10 minutes to wipe down 10 tables and 50 chairs, and stack them all neatly against the wall. (And, I’d like the record to reflect that I DID do a thorough job with the wipe downs, and I did stack everything straight and orderly – but let me tell you, I hauled some booty, too.) As I stacked the last chair, I ran to the man in charge, whipping off the gloves and throwing the rag into the bucket, and pointed to the folded items leaning against the wall and said/half-yelled, “Look, look! It’s done! Okay? Can I go?!”
He nodded, then looked at me intently and seriously and said (very calmly and slowly), “Please, drive safely. You’ve been in a different kind of mental space for over 10 days; and you are a little excited right now. And it’s a transition going from this place to driving on the crazy, fast freeway – so please, please, be safe. Okay?” And his eyes held mine for a few seconds, to illustrate just how serious he really was.
I paused, slightly. And I looked at him for just over a second, right into his eyes. And I got it. And I nodded. And I promised I would, indeed, drive safely. And that seemed to re-assure him a bit, because he smiled, and let me go. And I was off.
I got into the car, and was literally shaking with adrenaline. As I passed through the (now open) gated entrance of the meditation center and left the premises, I felt absolutely, completely ELATED. I felt like I REALLY had just been released from rehab. (Or prison.) My heard was racing, and I was grinning from ear to ear, and I was deeply breathing in the air, and my eyes were wide trying to capture all of the brightness of the sunny day and fall leaves, and I was enjoying feeling the vibrating steering wheel in my hand, and the power of the car beneath my right foot. I was free. I was headed home.
In that moment, I felt true joy. TRUE. JOY. For as much pain and hurt and angst and frustration and despair I felt during various days of the retreat experience, I now felt that much joy. And it was real joy. Sincere joy. Joy like I truly have never, ever felt before in my life. Ever. EVER.
God, it is all so beautiful. I just can’t help but smile, and be happy.
As soon as I located the freeway (about 20 minutes after leaving the center), I grabbed my cell phone, and FINALLY got to call my husband. And truthfully, I probably should have waited at least a few hours before trying to talk to him. Everything was just too raw. My emotions were RIGHT on the surface of my being; I was just too vulnerable, too exposed, too raw – too unable to control anything about myself. It’s like my soul was an open wound – and I needed to wait for a quick, temporary bandage to be put on it before I walked out in public. No one wants to see a bloody mess. But I was also desperate to talk with my husband, to hear his voice, to let him know I was coming home, and I would be there as soon as I could, and that I loved him, and that I missed him SO MUCH… So I called him. And he answered in his lovely, caring voice, and said he missed me, and asked me how it all was. And instantly, I cried.
Sobbing, I tried to explain, “It was really hard…but it was really good…but it was really, really hard…”
He sounded VERY concerned. “Honey, it doesn’t sound like it was very good…” And he said that maybe I should hang up, and I could tell him all about it when I got home; and that perhaps for now I should just focus on driving safely. It sounded like he was talking to a slightly unstable person, in a very soothing, no-sudden-moves kind of tone. And truthfully, he probably wasn’t that far off.
And I agreed; it probably would be best to focus exclusively on driving right then, and get home safely, and hug and kiss and adore him when I saw him in person. And honestly, just hearing his voice, even just for those two minutes we were on the phone together, was all I needed to make the world seem “right” again.
So, we said our good-byes, and I hung up the phone; and I spent the next two hours just being in the car, on the road. Just feeling the vibrations of the engine, and the surface of the road on the tires, and seeing the scenery pass by the windows. Just being present. Just being in the moment. Just being. God, it was SO BEAUTIFUL.
After about two hours, I stopped shaking. Yes, it really, truly, sincerely, literally did take that long for my physiological processes to finally slow down a little bit, for the adrenaline to mostly wear off, and for the emotions to be reduced to a still-very-heightened, but slightly-more-manageable, level.
Around noon I stopped and got lunch; and it was such a treat to have the freedom to order whatever I wanted. And to eat at any pace I wanted, and to be able to linger a little bit after the meal and not have to rush off to the next item on a rigorous schedule.
And finally, finally, at 3:45 pm, after 7 hours of being on the road, I pulled into my driveway, and RAN into my house, and got to hug and kiss and adore my husband. I got to see his wonderfully boyish smile, and I got to feel his arms around me, and I got to experience exactly how much I love him, from a place deep within my heart, and my soul. I was home. And it felt SO good.