72: A Single Twisted Tree

72: A Single Twisted Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

A Single Twisted Tree

At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

~Alan Alda

I had been planning this for years — I would book an extended stay in Ireland, the birthplace of my great-grandfather. I needed to get out of the rut I’d been in since I graduated from college: the sameness of my routine, and the feeling that something just wasn’t right about this life I had created.

So, when the time came to take the leap, I had already sold off most of my possessions and was moving the rest into storage. My company was on notice that I would be gone at least six months, with no guarantee that I would return or that they would offer me the same job if I came back. The lease on my apartment was up, and I had enough money saved up to live on for a while.

Then, as I was about to buy the plane ticket to Ireland, I started to have vivid dreams of kangaroos and the red desert. I knew nothing about Australia. Still, those dreams continued, night after night, saturated in intense colors and a surreal silence. Finally, they were too powerful to ignore. Clearly, something was waiting for me Down Under. I bought a ticket for my new destination.

Then, with less than two weeks to go, I flopped onto the couch for a nap. Another dream arrived with all the clarity of a vision.

I was sailing over the red plains as easily as an eagle. Here and there, saltbush and spiky grasses splashed the desert a frosty, faded green. The feeling was that of utter freedom.

I felt drawn toward a single tree twisted from years in the brutal environment. In the shade beneath the thin branches lay my corpse. The image jolted me, but I moved farther ahead, just to be sure that it was me. It was, and I was definitely dead.

I lay there on the couch for the longest time thinking about the vision. This one had been by far the most clear, the one that felt as if I was actually there in some way experiencing the events. Was this a premonition, one of those gut feelings that keeps people from boarding planes that end up crashing? And if I headed into the Outback anyway, would I regret my choice?

Then the thought came to me that I was already dead. The corporate job I had worked so hard to get was killing me. Staying meant falling ever deeper into the darkness. Even if I ended up dying during the trip, I would have met my end while living fully.

A week after landing in Sydney, I purchased a twenty-year-old sedan. I geared up with forty gallons of gasoline and a tent in the trunk, and a two-week supply of dried rice, potatoes and water jumbled on the rear seat. Then, armed only with a map pulled from an old National Geographic magazine, I headed into the desert.

The territory was so rough that only the middle of the roads — ragged patches of asphalt the Australians called highways — were drivable. During the course of that journey, five tires blew from the extreme conditions, the hood came loose and slammed against the windshield, the car got stuck up to the axles in the talc-like Outback dust, and an untraceable short in the system occasionally left me stranded for hours before mysteriously fixing itself.

Amid these challenges there was incredible beauty. Every night, I pulled off in some lonely patch of desert where it felt like the world was devoid of other human life. I cooked over an open fire and listened to the embers crackle in the silent desert. The stars’ steadfast glow made time irrelevant.

Then, one day, I was driving along a roadbed that had been raised about four feet to prevent the asphalt from washing away during seasonal flooding. The pavement was a single lane in each direction, and was barely more than a crumbling layer of asphalt. The speedometer was hovering north of 80 mph when one of the tires blew.

The car flew off the road and landed hard on the desert floor. By some slim chance, the kinetic energy did not flip the vehicle. Instead, it bounced upward, bounding again and again in hops that grew shorter but were no less dangerous. I could do nothing but wait for the car to stop.

Then a single twisted tree rose up in front of me. It was the image I had seen in that vision. I was going to die.

Suddenly, a bright hot light flashed through me, and I knew. I did not want to die this way. I looked to my right at the road. The moment I thought, that’s where I want to be, the car was back on the road.

I had not moved the wheel. I had not blinked or even taken a breath. But the car was on the asphalt again, a little wobbly but now slow enough to control. I pulled over, parked on the narrow shoulder, and looked out at that lone tree. My arms began to shake so hard I could barely keep my grip on the steering wheel.

But I had changed the vision. I had traveled halfway around the world in order to choose life. I was not just surviving in a salaried position, keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I chose to live fully. When we leave our lives open to possibility, even something miraculous can happen.

~Laine Cunningham

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