A year ago today our family began our road trip west, the vacation that would end in death. Rob took these pictures on the shores of Lake Erie that night, after our first day of driving. We had looked forward to this trip for months, and that first night was so filled with happiness. We were on our way!
As a family, we walked down from our campsite to the shore of Lake Erie, climbed around the rocks, found our perches and settled in to enjoy the view. To some people, there might not have been much to look at. Just a big expanse of water. But for two parents with insatiable wanderlust and four kids who’d sat in the car for hours, the view was perfect. Nothing but water stretching on to the horizon.
I have always loved wide open spaces. In childhood, the blue sweep of the Atlantic Ocean; and in adulthood, the expansiveness of the American West. Big sky country doesn’t overwhelm me with its size; I love the feeling of freedom that comes with a horizon you can see hundreds of miles away. Whether it’s water or land, I love the possibility of faraway horizons and the scale of grandeur that reminds me of my smallness in the universe.
Since Rob’s death, I’ve felt that smallness acutely. Death makes you feel so powerless and little — a speck of dust on a hunk of dust spinning wildly through space. It’s easy to let death dictate that narrative for the rest of your days. “I will always feel powerless. I will always feel small and alone.” It’s easy to let your experience of grief color the rest of your days with negativity — to convince you that you’ll never really live again, that the rest of your life will always feel this small and wounded.
Yes, death makes us feel small. It wipes the slate, clears the table, removes everything we found familiar between here and the horizon. Death can make you feel like the one small person on the shores of a lake that seems to go on forever. It can be terrifying to feel so small and alone. I suspect it’s that same feeling that keeps folks at home instead of exploring, more comfortable in cities that in the great wide open. The breadth and depth and length and width are overwhelming.
Today, I was taken aback when a friend described my future as “this adventure you’re on.” I had to stop and write it down. I’ve been mulling over his words all day. His different perspective stopped me in my tracks. I needed that reorientation, that reminder. There’s still a horizon out there calling me. Death doesn’t have the final say. Rob’s death need not dictate the horizon of my life.
My friend’s comment reminded me that, though I feel small, horizons don’t need to frighten me; they can excite me too. My new empty-slate life can feel overwhelming, like staring out at the seemingly endless waters of the ocean. Or, if I’m willing, I can allow this new broad expanse to tempt me with the possibility to be found right beyond the curve of the earth. This same life that has dealt me sorrow is also still full of unexpected adventure. I may not be able to see it from where I stand on these shores of grief. But I do believe it’s still out there, maybe just beyond the horizon.
Today, as I remember this day where Rob and I began our last adventure together, I’m reminded not only of all that lies behind me, but of all that still lies ahead. Rob would want me to keep living. (No surprise, he and I even talked about it!) There is adventure still to be had. Joy still to be experienced. Like a seasoned traveler, I’ll leave a little of my heart at each place on the way. I’ll carry in my heart each place I’ve been. On the cusp of so much change, I’ve decided that I’m going to start chasing that beautiful horizon again. There is so much world left to see.