When I left Santa Monica on my road trip in October, 2010, I felt completely alone. I felt like I was the only person in the world going through an existential crisis. Having had the realization that I didn’t like who I was and I didn’t like where I had found myself in life, I couldn’t imagine that anyone else could feel the panic, depression and anguish that I was feeling. I drove up the California coast in the pouring rain with tears streaming down my cheeks. How would I get through this difficult time in my life? Would I survive life on the road? Would I ever stop feeling so completely alone?
When I left Santa Monica on my road trip in October, 2010, I felt completely alone. I felt like I was the only person in the world going through an existential crisis. Having had the realization that I didn’t like who I was and I didn’t like where I had found myself in life, I couldn’t imagine that anyone else could feel the panic, depression and anguish that I was feeling. I drove up the California coast that first day in the pouring rain with tears streaming down my cheeks. How would I get through this difficult time in my life? Would I survive life on the road? Would I ever stop feeling so completely alone?
The interesting thing about traveling alone is that, really, I have never felt less alone in my life. By being honest about my struggles, I’ve bonded with old friends, and surprisingly, I’ve made many new friends along the way. I don’t know if road tripping for an extended length of time has broken down some of my protective walls, or if hitting rock bottom before I left actually made me start to be open and honest with people for the first time in my life. Quite likely it was a combination of them both. Whatever the case may be, it’s been a beautiful process. I’ve met many people through my travels who are going through similar difficult times in their lives. Most I haven’t written about. Yet, some I have. Like the recently unemployed guy with the pet bearded dragon whom I met in a rest stop in Wyoming. Or the girl who recently lost her job and now sells popcorn for a living in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There are also so many new friends without faces whom I’ve met because they’ve e-mailed me through my website to share their stories. I live for these e-mails, and I’m so grateful for all of you who have taken the time and energy to connect with me.
Yoda has met many new friends on the road too. There is Turtle, the little black dog who loved to chew on Yoda’s ears. Turtle is the pet of my new friends Alison and Thomas whom so generously let me stay in their guest room in Portland. There is the homeless puppy that I rescued with a park ranger in Hot Springs National Park. There is April the Rottweiler who belongs to Joanna, the wonderful woman who let me stay in her guest room in Hot Springs for 5 weeks. And there is Oliver, the pug with whom Yoda rocked New Orleans.
Recently in Louisiana and Texas, I met 3 different people with whom I’ve shared stories and connected in very profound ways. I want to tell you about them. First is Oliver the pug’s dad, Mathias. Mathias and I met in the most unique of road trip ways. Mathias is a Houston artist who has a series of American Gothic-inspired works. In November I blogged about visiting my friend Beth Howard who lives in the real American Gothic House. Beth commented on Mathias’ blog about one of his American Gothic napkin sketches. This inspired Mathias to write an essay about all things American Gothic. In a cursory internet search, he found my blog and thought I was the one who lived in the Eldon, Iowa historic house, so he linked to me and sent me an e-mail thanking me for “my comment.” I sent an e-mail back telling him that Beth actually lives there, and I am the one having an existential crisis and driving across country with my dog trying to find myself. Well wouldn’t you know, Mathias had a similar existential crisis himself and took a road trip with his dog across the Southwest last year. He shared his story via e-mail and I hung on every word. This person went through what I am going through and he surfaced on the other side as a better, happier man. It took losing almost everything for Mathias to realize that happiness stems from the simple things in life, like family, home cooked meals and healthy friendships. Our friendship developed to the point that he actually drove to meet me when I was staying in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His two-day visit turned into a full week when Hot Springs was hit by a freak snowstorm. Because they don’t have snow plows, the roads were not drivable and Mathias was stranded. A new friendship was born. He’s a Lousiana native, so I even took him and Oliver (aka Yoda’s new BFF) to New Orleans with me.
While in New Orleans Mathias and I were standing outside of Café Du Monde waiting to order our beignets and chicory coffee. We struck up a conversation with Minneapolis native Brenda Rau. Brenda, a 25 year veteran as a project manager with American Express Financial Advisors, had recently lost her job. Having an existential crisis of her own, she had just started a 6-week road trip with her dog Lucy, all while she launches her new business. Needless to say, Mathias and I both immediately connected with Brenda and shared dinner and two breakfasts with her. I had even planned to drive to Florida to spend a couple days with Brenda in her rented condo, however a wicked spasm in my hip muscle (thanks to all those long hours on the road) kept me from embarking on the long journey.
After I left Houston, where I was visiting both Mathias and my former law school chum, Yvonne, I landed in San Antonio for a night. It was crazy bitter cold outside, so I reluctantly bundled up and left the warmth of my room at the Hyatt to take Yoda for a quick walk on the River Walk. We no sooner had started our walk then we came face to face with a cowboy from Alabama named Wade. Wade was lost, trying to find a piano bar he had heard about. We started walking together, and less than 5 minutes after we met we ducked into the Hard Rock Café for hot cocoa. Our record-setting quick connection was a bit surreal. It was almost like we looked into each other’s eyes, saw something we recognized in there, and then both started telling our stories over one another. Neither of us could talk fast enough. Yes, you guessed it, Wade recently went through his own existential crisis. He’s a bit further along in the process than me, and just like when I met Michael, I clung to every one of Wade’s words. Wade used to be a professional cowboy – bull-riding to be exact. However one day he decided to go the professional route and became a biology teacher. He traded in his cowboy boots and jeans for professional work attire, a Mercedes, and world travel. He got so caught up in living the life he felt he was supposed to live that he turned his back on his roots. He said he never even wore jeans because he felt that jeans were part of his past. Well, it caught up with him. One day he woke up and realized he wasn’t happy. He missed the man he used to be. He missed his inner-cowboy. He’s worked hard over the last couple of years to find himself again. Part of that means breaking out the old cowboy attire and coming to San Antonio for the weekend to enjoy the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
My new friends on the road have all shown me that I’m not alone with my searching. None of us are. We all have our pain, and I’m convinced that this pain is a way for us to grow stronger, to search out meaning in life, and to reach the next rung in the ladder of our existence. Quite possibly finding meaning in life means meshing whom we are today with whom we used to be. All too often our loneliness stems from living a life that doesn’t feel authentic and isn’t true to whom we really are inside. Mathias, Brenda and Wade have taught me my latest lesson of the road: we should all embrace our inner-cowboy or cowgirl and become the persons we are meant to be.
Read me on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-buckley/