A Cartography of Transitions

A Cartography of Transitions.

Disclaimer: The author spent minimal amounts of time doodling the featured atlas—as such it’s exact and precise validity cannot be fully held to any serious scrutiny. Should a passerby attempt to use this map as any kind of functional guide, they should do so at their own risk recognizing that exact details may, and most certainly will, vary greatly due to time of year, season of life, tilt of the earth, length of hair, music choice, number of (and/or existence of) freckles, breakfast choice, favorite beverage and other innumerable variables that I simply cannot be bothered to list at the present.

Discovering the Sea of Change:

During the summer of 2002 I assumed a solid posture on my parents living room sofa; the sofa was positioned next to the front window and looked out into our green, heavily wooded yard—the green grass meandering between well-manicured, shade loving hostas.  Despite the serenity and beauty of the view, my internal view was anything but placid. I set facing the torrid, seemingly dangerous Sea of Change, and I was practically immobilized by the fear.  I had spent the previous year as a freshman at a respectable Seventh-day Adventist college that made enormous amounts of sense for three reasons; I grew up in, and was part of, a SDA family, my father and sister had both attended said school, and it was the closest Adventist college to me geographically. However, after a year there several other realities had surfaced, and one in particular caught my attention; I had no idea what I was doing with my life and private Christian school was a high price for ‘self-discovery.’ If that reason wasn’t enough there was also the fact that I was beginning to worry the longer I stayed in a SDA school the ironic reality was, the less I wanted to BE Adventist. I remember thinking if I could just get a clear picture of what I wanted, I would face the Sea of Change, I would embark on the crossing, and I would be over the sea…for good.I spent most of July making ‘pro and con’ list and then reexamine the list—analyzing the living daylights out of them. I ultimately chose to transfer to the University of Missouri—the hometown campus of my childhood. I lived in my parents basement, changed my major from English to Classical Humanities, and wondered through my self-discovery at a much leaner instate tuition price tag. I would agonize this decision for several years following, although happily I can report, with 12 years of water under the bridge, I’m perpetually thankful for the path I took. It was the right choice for my life in that season.  I was however exceptionally wrong about it being the last time I would face off with the Sea of Change. Since that initial first serious crossing of my adult life, I’ve crossed that sea many times over, and I find myself again this summer facing a similar sea. The possibilities seem wide, varied, and the outcomes equally uncertain, and I wish desperately for a map, a guide, a literal voice standing behind me saying, ‘this is the way, walk ye in it.’ Or something similar to that… y’know, outright liturgical.If only I had An Atlas for Transitions that would tell me where to go next.

Land of Familiarity:

The trademark nature of a sea of change, is that the land you stand on is familiar. It may not be completely friendly, but ‘the devil you know, is better than the devil you don’t know.’ (A saying most likely fashioned by one who really ever stood off with that one familiar devil, and didn’t really have anything to compare it to…I mean after all, how would you know it’s better than the devil you don’t know…if you don’t know the other devil? Right?) It’s easy to stay in the familiar land. I’ve noticed that familiar lands frequently please the people near you because they are most likely places where friends and family have traveled. You don’t have to risk the unknown, you can play it safe, and despite real good intentions you can postpone your leaving in the Port of Procrastination for an endless season.  As a kid I remember wanting to be a ‘western kind of person.’ I first fell in love with the mountains in a ‘love at first sight’ kind of way, when I was five years old. I was sitting in the front seat of my grandparents van, on my grandpa’s lap (this was the 80’s folks…seat belt laws just weren’t what they presently are… somehow I survived to adulthood regardless.) At any rate, I long dreamed of moving west, and I always assumed that I would be moving there after college.  It became especially obvious that this would happen when my sister moved to Washington during my junior year at MU. Yet, when I reached adulthood, and graduate from university, the familiar option was to stay in the Midwest. It was safe. It was friendly. (There may or may not have been a boy that factored into this reasoning…) It wasn’t always what I dreamed about, but it was good in many ways. I spent most of my twenties in Missouri, and it wasn’t until I was 28 that I finally moved to the PNW. I did eventually leave the land of the familiar, but I know a thing or two about second guessing that exit.

Moving Beyond the Familiar:

Beyond the familiar, you must surmount the shores of uncertainty (do I go North? South? Straight across into the future?) And you must avoid the shifting sands of false starts. And if that isn’t enough, there are Pirates in the water. Sometimes they even seem friendly, but they’ll board your vessel as friends, and strip you of your certainty, confidence, peace and joy. ‘What are you planning to do?’ ‘If I were you…’ ‘Are you sure that’s what you want?’

The Islands:

I would be doing a complete injustice if I implied that simply leaving the familiar was a way to move into the best version of yourself. Just because you get off the familiar, doesn’t guarantee anything. There are endless diversions; you can be stuck in the land of endless adventure, the isle of compromise, or possibly get caught up in the false mirages …wealth and fame.  And sometimes you even find yourself stuck again in the lands of ‘self-sabotage’ or worse yet, ‘the waiting place.’

The Great Barrier Reef of FEAR:

The ultimate goal is to reach the Far off Land of my Becoming, but between me and my exquisite life there is fear.  Fear that I’ll make a mistake, fear that I’ll not live up to my best, fear that I’ll be dispensable or expendable—that I won’t matter to anyone or anything.  Fear must be crossed, because these are all uncharted lands.

Land of my Becoming:

As I reflect on these transitions I think of two things. First I think of the Avett Brothers song, ‘the Weight of lies’ and the verse, “When you run make sure you run, to something and not away from, ‘cause lies don’t need an airplane to chase you down.”  Transitions and changes will happen as surely as anything in the world, so it’s not a matter of ‘if you do or don’t stay’ in the land of the familiar. At the same time, rushing into change for the sake of escape is equally wrong. One really must be making sure that you’re running to something and not away from something. The second thought is the author Barbara Kingsolver, who said, “the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” From what I’ve experienced of change, the most important way I’ve survived it is to have a sure knowledge of what it is that I am hoping for. I don’t know what this season will bring, but there is some peace in understanding that I have been in this sea before, and that I made it across. The Bible talks about the idea of ‘raising your Ebenezer,’ which simply means that you make a stone of remembrance, or a marker for past victories.  Because when you come to times of transitions, it’s easy to get stuck up in a hundred different ways, and it’s important to remember that  this too shall pass. In truth, perhaps this life is less about arriving on solid land, and more about becoming a sailor, about finding a sturdy ship, and about finding the best kinds of comrades to sail with as you travel on your way.

Another Note: In middle school I remember my mum brought home a curriculum called ‘mapping the world by heart’ …or it was something along those lines. (I was homeschooled, did I ever mentioned that tidbit?) The idea (or what I remember the idea being) was you crafted/drew a timeline of maps that featured various parts and places of historical events, scientific discoveries, artistic accomplishments, famous people, political mayhem etc. I was enamored. Last week I ran across a book about drawing maps and was instantly transported back to fifth grade, and my desperate love of imaginary cartography. This is a manifestation of that love.