New Roads Ahead

Clearly I’m not in MN any more–  land of flat, clear lines of vision.  I lived in St. Paul for 24 years and despite my abysmal sense of direction, I got to the point of knowing where I was going most of the time.

Now I live in San Diego, and immediately noticed some differences from behind the wheel.  Roads here feel a bit wider, whether in neighborhoods or on the 12 lane highways.  They are predominately concrete rather than asphalt– a good choice because concrete lasts longer; but it’s a rougher ride that takes some getting used to.  What I really love is that most neighborhood intersections are four-way stops!  Yes!  Such a relief to expect to stop at each one and that the other cars will too.  Drivers seem very aware of pedestrians, and walkways are well-respected.  The many cyclists are car-savvy, and in my limited experience, vice-versa.  Whew!  Clearly my worries about driving around my new home were overblown, right?  My GPS, whom I have named Madison, is a godsend in helping me find stores, friends homes, parks, coffee shops, the library……   all is well.  Thank you Madison.  I can rest easy zipping around in my sweet little Prius (named Sally, by the way).

Screaming in abject terror was not what I anticipated one day on another Home Depot run.  Madison was directing me to the nearby entrance to Highway 5, and there was a gentle hill or two.  Part of living on a major fault line means there are ups and downs, sweet  curves to enjoy making “zoom zoom” noises on.  Til now they had been a charming part of taking walks and cruising around.  Until I got to the intersection of 21st and B Street.  Where someone had apparently removed the road.  I couldn’t see it anymore.  There was NOTHING beyond the front of my car but clear blue sky.  I got that sickening feeling of being at the top of a rollercoaster just before it plunges down the first hill.  Except a roller coaster takes you helplessly with it;  Madison was calmly suggesting I step on the gas and hurtle myself into space.

Instead I screamed, a primal shield against certain death!  One more inch and surely Sally and I would plunge to a horrific fiery crash.  I literally froze in shock.  Where were the signs saying the road was closed?!?  Why were those people on the corner looking at me so strangely??  My pounding heart refocused my attention on escape:  I backed up, turned, and sped off.  Once my pulse was below 200 again, I crept the long way around by side streets to peer up the cliff.  There was, in fact, a road there.  Normal looking concrete, with lane lines and everything.  Oh no!  Another car was at the precipice where I was just at, I’ve got to warn—HEY!  They’re going over the edge!  And though tipped at a steep angle, the car ambled safely to the bottom, turning to get on the highway, like it was no big deal.  No screaming.  Not a peep.  Hmmmm….

The next time I came to this intersection, having blocked the trauma from my mind (a.k.a. forgot where it was), I again screamed.  Because that’s my gut reaction when suddenly there is no road and I think I’m going to die.  But then I had a sense of déjà vu.  What was that other experience where I lowered myself over the edge of a cliff, convinced I would die then too?  Oh right!  Rock climbing!  I loved climbing, and although rappelling was terrifying the first time, it swiftly became almost as fun as climbing itself.  I’ve done this before.

So this time, after screaming, I paused a moment.  I cognitively knew there was a road under the tires even if I couldn’t see it.  Others had survived the ordeal.  And now there was a car behind me.  So with teeth gritted tightly, and audibly whimpering, I eased S-L-O-W-L-Y  two millimeters off the brake and crawled down the hill.  I’m sure it took at least five minutes to get to the bottom.  But I was ALIVE!!  And heading  to Home Depot again.

This scenario has repeated itself at least a dozen times now.  I know it’s coming, but yikes, easing down that incline still turns my stomach.  Sometimes I still yelp.  But it’s also starting to make me wonder.  There may be many experiences ahead that will be just like driving here has been.  Some things will be pretty familiar, like finding the nearest Aldi grocery and Trader Joe’s.  (I love both!)  Other experiences will be foreign, even shocking.  In crossing boundaries and borders, there will be times when I am confronted with fear and confusion, wondering who took the road out from in front of me.

I am very aware that I am now living at a place of international conflict.

The US-Mexico border is a place of physical and symbolic struggle as controversy over building a wall and immigration reform has occupied our political conversation for several years now.  As I press into ministry here, I will be crossing a few similarly complex and conflicted borders myself:  American to Mexican culture, white to nonwhite, middle class to marginalized.  Prior to relocating I have taken intentional steps towards these boundaries and while sometimes anxious, I also made surprising even delightful discoveries.  But living ten minutes away from Tijuana, that pace is going to ramp up dramatically.  It’s what I came for.  How will I respond when I encounter those so different from me, when cultural values I live by don’t work anymore, or my failures feel like a ten foot border wall?

Internal screaming may be a strong possibility!  After that, I hope to call on my learning to drive down the hill at 21st and B:  sometimes it’s OK to back up and breathe first.  Have self-compassion.  Watch others do it.  Try it again.  Allow whimpering.  Unlike my Home Depot runs, I will not be navigating any of this alone.  My dear colleagues Shaun and Maria will be my mentors.  So many dedicated people are already hard at work in the trenches here that I am joining;  their passion and experience inspire and relieve me of much anxiety.  I can’t wait to learn from them.  Maybe I’ll even decide, like rappelling, that new challenges are exciting, fun, and allow me to climb higher.

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