You Are Here

By Toni McGee Causey

I wonder sometimes. I wonder about this journey we are on, this effort we make to create and breathe life into mere dots of ink. I wonder about the angst of it, the stress and beating of ourselves into smithereens small enough to sieve. How did we get into that mindset?

I’ve thought about this all week, after a few stressful events over the last couple of weeks. To get away from it all, my husband and I visited my oldest son and his wife and the four of us made a trek over to Moab, Utah where there are a couple of impressive national parks I had never heard about.

When you go into the visitor’s center of these parks, there are elaborate displays demonstrating the types of things you’re going to see on your travels through the park, with snippets of educational information that should prove useful. One of the standards in visitor centers of this sort is the big map—or model—of the area, with a star somewhere that indicates the location where you’re standing, with a big “You Are Here” note in bold red, just so you don’t miss it.

And most of the time, we barely reference the “You Are Here” sign. 

                YOU ARE HERE

 

We glance at it, note it in relation to the map, orienting ourselves for the journey outward, away. It’s simply a starting point, a place that is already boring for the very fact that it’s only the beginning. It’s where you are, not where you are going or where you want to be.

Lives can be like that. And careers. We’re so busy looking outward and onward, away from where we are, that we’re impatient with ourselves to just get over there. To that place. That place that is not here. We’re so focused on the end result, we forget that no end result happens without the journey.

There is always a journey.

On one of the treks in the Canyonlands park, the climb was fairly steep for someone like myself who has been sitting behind a desk for far far too long without enough exercise. For my 27-year-old very physically fit son, it was nothing. He kept saying, “It’s really not much farther, you’re almost there,” all along the way, which was, frankly, kinda annoying, because even as much as I’d like to have believed him, I could see with my own two eyes that there were a lot more steps above me than there were below. About halfway there, I had serious doubts about finishing the stupid climb. It really wasn’t that far, in actuality, but it felt like a zillion miles straight up at an altitude I wasn’t accustomed to, and I was wondering somewhere along the way how I managed to give birth to a drill sergeant who had this crazy notion that I should be up and moving instead of always sitting at my nice happy desk which required exactly 11 steps from my bed. All level steps, I might add. This whole outdoors thing was ridiculous, what with the fresh air and the beautiful scenery and the… hmmmm.

Then we finally got to the last part, a hard slope uphill with no actual steps, you just had to lean into it and use your legs to push on up and then bang, we were on top of the viewpoint where we could see this amazing Upheaval Canyon.

(A shot I took of Upheaval Mountain)

(And the 180 degree view)

The colors were stunning. The vastness of the canyon. The gorgeous sky above. The layers and layers of strata in the canyon that represented the hundreds of thousands (or millions?) of years that this particular canyon formed.

I loved this particular place because the beauty of it lies in the fact that it didn’t form quite like the many canyons around it. There are a couple of theories, but the prevailing one seems to be the idea that an ancient meteor struck the earth there, possibly collapsing a dome of salt. There are details here: http://www.utahtrails.com/UpheavalCan.html, but what struck me was that this thing of beauty was formed by great hardship and change.

I stood on top of that mountain and thought “You Are Here.”

Hardship and change are inevitable on our journeys. We can have a lot of signposts along the way, and educational snippets / suggestions from the best meaning sources, including friends, but nothing is going to substitute for us living and experiencing that journey.

When I looked back at that second view, I realized–that was my view on my way up. Those clouds, that sun, those colors, that world, and I’d barely seen it, because I wanted to be on top of the mountain already. I nearly missed the view, and only realized how far I’d come and how much I’d seen when I looked back and saw the whole picture.

The thing is, I had been mostly looking at my shoes on the way up that mountain, contemplating why on earth this had seemed like a good idea back at the hotel, grousing internally about the effort it was taking just to go see what amounted to a big hole in the ground. I think we do that a lot with our careers and our lives—we are so busy being frustrated with where we are, because we want to be over there, or there, or there. Somewhere not here, not in this particular hard place, because we want to have the end result.

Well, I could’ve looked at photos and had the end result, but it wouldn’t have meant as much. Until you stand there in that moment on the top of that hill that you had to climb, and experienced the vastness of the landscape, witnessed the brilliant hues in the earth, seen forever painted in the sky, you cannot really know the end result.

It’s always going to take work to get from here to there.

A few months ago, if you’d asked me if I’d be standing on top of a mountain, seeing something I’ve never seen, doing something I hadn’t done, I’d have told you no. It wasn’t a part of my plan, a part of what I thought my journey was. But I’d have missed something amazing and life has a way of giving you detours. It’s up to you if you learn from them or not. It’s up to you if you say, “Yes, I am here,” and appreciate where you are. 

On my way back down that hill, I noticed the scenery. Little things I’d taken for granted or hadn’t bothered to experience on the way up, because they were just mere obstacles to my journey to get to the damned top already.

And I thought about that journey up. I had to rest a couple of times, whereas my son could’ve raced up the mountain without breaking a sweat. He has seen this site before and we were experiencing it for the first time. But there are things I’ve seen, hardships I’ve known, that he hasn’t had yet. Things he’s seen and known that I will never fully grasp.

But we both stood at the top, amazed. Speechless with the beauty.

(Another area of Canyonlands… what you cannot grasp from this photo is the vastness of the scale here. From where this shot was taken to the bottom of that canyon you see in the center of the photo is a 2000 ft. difference in elevation. There are canyon walls beyond that, levels upon levels, created hardship by hardship, over eons of time. Beautiful, sublime.)

You can’t compare your journey to someone else’s. Their journey is theirs. Yours is yours. Period. You cannot walk in their shoes. You cannot die their death. They cannot die yours. They may go farther than you, faster than you, but it doesn’t matter. What you can know, and the only thing you can know, is that You Are Here. You don’t know yet what you will be, when you’re done. You might have an inkling of what you’d like to be, where you’d like to be, but you cannot know if that is the best thing for you, when all is said and done. What you can only know is where you are and what your intention is. And all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, in good faith that you will eventually arrive at the right destination for you. Meanwhile, don’t miss the good things that surround you where you are because you’re so busy looking off to the horizon at that far away goal that you may obtain someday.

Embrace where you are, right now. This is part of your journey. You’re not alone. We’re all here, signpost and snippets and educational babble along the way. We cheer each other, sometimes being that annoying supporter who says, “You’re almost there!” when you suspect it’s a lie, but nevertheless, applauding you for trying. But your journey is going to have its own hardships. You’re going to learn your own lessons, and those are good things, both the hardships and the lessons. Because without the hardships, there wouldn’t be anything to compare the beauty to, to recognize the beauty when you see it. To bask in where you’ve gone once you’ve gotten there. 

You Are Here.

Every place you are is the place of your new beginning.

Enjoy.

(A shot I took of what seemed to me a most unlikely thing–a vineyard at the base of the mountains in Palisade, CO. A vineyard, in snow country surprised me. But their Reserve Riesling was one of the best I ever tasted. Surprises on the journey.)

So how about you, ‘Rati? What was a surprising turn in your life that brought you to a place you hadn’t expected, which you may never have planned, but for which now you are grateful? OR, if you’d rather, tell me something you appreciate about where you are in life right now.

18 thoughts on “You Are Here

  1. Vicky McAulay

    Toni, reading your post was like having someone slap me upside the head. I am so guilty of wishing I were somewhere else, in another time, with other people, that I often neglect what’s right in front of me. You’ve given me a lot to chew on. Thanks for a very thoughtful post. And great pictures!
    Vicky

    Reply
  2. Karen in Ohio

    Well, said, Toni!

    My own experience, one which has informed my life, was the death of my father when I was 17 and just out of high school. It no doubt sounds bizarre, but his passing out of our lives was, despite being so terribly wrenching and hard, was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. In the intervening 40 years I’ve tried to always let my loved ones know how I feel about them, as often as possible, and to attempt to live with as much gusto as possible. Knowing that life is so precious, that it can be ripped from you at any second, has helped me make big decisions more easily, and has shown me that we may not always get that second chance we want. I had the chance to speak to my dad the day before he died, but because of fear I let it slip away, forever. We left too many things unsaid, and I never want to live with that kind of regret again.

    Reply
  3. Paula R.

    Hey Toni, your posts are always so inspiring, and informative. As I sit here typing, I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing this beautiful part of your journey. I am guilty of always looking and wanting to be over there, rather than appreciating where I am now. The last couple of weeks have been rather depressing, to be perfectly honest, and your post today really made me think about my present circumstances. It just gets so hard to appreciate that I am here, rather than focus on where I want to be. I have been so down on me lately. Thank you for the wake up call. I am going to print this one out too. The shots you took are really beautiful too. I need to keep my eyes off the ground more often, so that I can look around and appreciate the beauty right here, surrounding me.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

    Reply
  4. JD Rhoades

    My son turns 18 today, and I’m thinking a lot about the long journey it took to get here…a long journey that seems to have gone by in a week. I know I made some mistakes, but he’s survived them all and grown into a fine young man–smart, funny, talented, perceptive and kind. It’s good to be here with him, right now.

    Reply
  5. PK the Bookeemonster

    Just in the past year have been two life appreciation lessons. First, I’ve worked my entire adult life, always been able to find a job and actually enjoyed going from job to job learning new things and meeting new people. I was let go from my last job in October 2008 and could not get employed no matter how many resumes I sent in or how many advanced degrees I had. We have all on occasion grumbled about having to work and wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to, etc. I’ve learned to appreciate the opportunity to pay my bills in a way that keeps my dignity and how much a job is tied to self esteem. I’ve learned I’m done job hopping and just want to do a job I enjoy for the next 25 years that lets me do my own stuff outside of work when I’m not there. I just started a new job two weeks ago — a state job with good benefits. It’s only a temporary one year deal but looks good to be extended.
    Second thing I learned this year was an appreciation for my health. A lot of us sort of move through life taking a lot for granted. Long story short, I got an infection in my leg that took away my mobility for three months. Sounds like a great vacation to do a lot of reading, right? Not when you’ve got a household to take of. It was an eye opener. And I have a healthy respect for germs now, too.
    So. I am here and I like just about everything around me just a bit more. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  6. billie

    As always, a beautiful, thought-provoking post.

    A big turning point in my life was when a dear author friend advised me to stop waiting "for the book to sell" to buy myself a horse. He said something like "don’t put something that important to you in the hands of a very fickle industry."

    Buying the horse was the stepping stone to buying our farm, and who would have thought that I was so few stones away from fulfilling a lifelong dream? Every single day I am grateful that I am surrounded by horses, donkeys, teenagers, cats, dogs, and the many serendipities provided by nature and this very big family I now have.

    I wrote the following on my blog this morning, which is exactly where I am now:

    Outside my sunday morning window there is a red tree, a red bay, fallen acorns, a big chestnut, tobacco brown leaves on green grass, and a painted pony whose upside-down V is, today, an arrow pointing up to a clear and beautiful sky.

    Reply
  7. TerriMolina

    I don’t have an answer to your question but your post (and the accompanying pictures) was beautiful and very inspirational. Thank You.

    I hope the stress you’ve been dealing with is gone now.

    Hugs

    Reply
  8. JT Ellison

    The turns I’ve made would take a whole post, but a couple that led me to my path: getting disqualified from the State discus championship b/c of the shorts I was wearing, by the girl I beat, after asking the judges permission to wear the shorts and getting his OK – it was so blatantly unfair that I quit track, refused my scholarships and did golf instead. Then had a chance to go for the LPGA, instead decided to go to college. Did horribly my freshman year and had to transfer, which gave me a free semester. Used that time to work on a political campaign. Realized I wanted to go into politics instead of an MFA. Applied to Harvard and GW. Decided against Harvard in favor of saving money by living at home. Met husband first night at GW.

    Any step differently and I might not have met Randy, which led me to Nashville, and my career as a writer. So I am always, always grateful and open when something doesn’t go the way I want it to, because I know, from experience, that I’m going to take a journey on to a different path. And all will be well.

    Lovely post today, Toni. Remembering to live in the now, not the past, not the future, is something we all should strive for.

    Reply
  9. toni mcgee causey

    Thank you, everyone. I’m traveling home today… On icy roads on the way to the airport. Am seriously appreciating safe driversright now.

    Vicky and Paula. Karen, wow, what a wakeup call. But what a beautiful lesson. Thank you for sharing that.

    Dusty, two weeks from now, you’ll look up and he’ll be 27, on a SWAT team, taking out an active shooter who has killed one person and critically wounded 3 others. Scary as hell. I’m so grateful I am here.

    Louise, you’re on. πŸ˜‰

    PK, yay!! I know you’ve worked so hard to gethere. I’m so happy for you.

    Terri, thanks. Much better now that I got to see he was ok for myself.

    JT, thank you. I love your story. Such an awesome thing to see how wonderful detours can turn out.

    I’ll be checking in from the road… I love hearing your stories.

    Reply
  10. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Be. Here. Now.

    Thank you so much for the reminder.

    Life changing events? So, so many.

    The biggest three were having my babies . . . losing my own mother.
    I am a completely different person as a result, a much better, more compassionate and loving person.

    And my life is richer than I ever could have imagined it would be.

    Reply
  11. Toni Klym McLellan

    Toni, I really needed to read this right now. You are so good at writing inspirational essays! I’m an avid hiker, so the theme was gravy. πŸ™‚ Printing this up and posting it where I can read it again.

    As for unexpected changes, I remember a trip to Yellowstone with my family a couple of years ago. I really wanted to show them this one spot that I was sure they’d love, and was trying to teach the kids about the geology and history of the place, and they just weren’t into it. I felt desperate to pack in as much information about one of my favorite places as I could. The sun was setting and I knew we had to get back to camp soon, but I REALLY wanted to show the kids that one spot.

    Moments later, I was stopped by a park ranger for speeding, and he let me off with a warning. I took it as a signal to slow down and savor, not rush around all stressed out. The kids just wanted to throw rocks in Jackson Lake the whole time, anyway, which was an equally fun way to spend time out there are my ideas were. It changed how I feel about traveling with kids, and now when I find myself rushing and panicking and stressing, I remember that park ranger’s lights in the rear view, and let myself off with a warning to slow down.

    Reply
  12. Karen in Ohio

    You’re welcome, Toni.

    And the other Toni’s comment reminded me of my own trip out West this past summer, meeting up with my two youngest daughters at my middle daughter’s home in Boulder. She took us on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, where she worked her second summer in college. We took a five-mile hike, up to a spectacular mountain lake, just at the end of the treeline. It was a little difficult for me because of the altitude, but being with my wonderful daughters in the lovely place was so worth it.

    Isn’t it great to have adult children? It’s like growing your own set of best friends.

    Reply
  13. Cornelia Read

    Toni, this is gorgeous writing, and as my mother often quotes the Quakers as saying, "it speaks to my condition."

    I think the place I had never thought I would be was not married again, and it’s actually pretty damn cool. Who knew?

    Reply
  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, I LOVE Canyonlands!! All of that area. Just magical. Thanks for the photos.

    I am here – at a place where I’m spending half the day that I used to spend all of writing now doing some deep soul work – on just me. I didn’t intend to be here but I’m making my own inner world and needs more important than anything else right now. That’s a first.

    And I feel just fine about it. I don’t know why I ever thought that wouldn’t be the best thing for me to do for my writing, too.

    Reply
  15. BCB

    Oh, Toni. So many deep chords you’ve touched. I’m not even going to tell you what they are.

    I read your post this morning and then shut down the internet for a while, a long while, and sat out on the deck in the first rays of sunshine we’ve seen in a week and was content to just "be" there — contemplating the shimmering leaves and the crisp air and the sounds of nature.

    I am here, in a place I never could have imagined just a few short years ago. And I am deeply grateful. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    I’m glad you took that trip, made that hike, got to see for yourself.

    Reply
  16. Melanie

    Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this.

    I’m still in the middle of my journey and I’m dying for it to be over. I just want to get to the top of the mountain already. I do take time to appreciate what I have because as much as I hate where I am now, I’ll never have these moments back. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply

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