80: Annual Reboot

80: Annual Reboot

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Annual Reboot

A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.

~Katharine Butler Hathaway

“Who’s going with you to Sedona?” Mama asked.

I hesitated, thinking of how to frame my answer. “I’ll be with my co-workers at the Phoenix meeting, but then they’re flying back to North Carolina. I have to go to a conference in San Francisco right after that.”

“I don’t like it,” Mama said, her blue eyes looking straight into mine. “It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”

“Mama, if I can go through cancer treatment, I’m certainly not afraid to get in a rental car and drive across the state of Arizona.”

“I still don’t like it, you going by yourself.”

I hoped my tone had not hurt her. She’d been through enough. She was just a mother looking out for her young, even if her young was forty-five years old. It was time to pull out my trump card. “I won’t be alone. God will be with me,” I said.

She took in the words of her determined, “headstrong” middle daughter. “Well, you’ll be in the best of hands, but be careful.”

And that’s how my first solo journey started — a serendipitous trip to Sedona that was wedged between business in Phoenix and San Francisco. Before that I’d been settled into my middle-aged life, working as a research nurse, married to a busy psychologist, raising two teenage sons. Life seemed like a predictable chain of events. The one creative outlet I had was writing, which had taken the form of a first novel about women who were also in midlife. My characters were in group therapy trying to become what they’d once dreamed of before they were weighed down by routines and responsibilities.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my predictable chain of events suddenly became a scary journey into the unknown of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. I took each step with the help of my faith, family and friends. Over time, I learned that I could survive, and even thrive, when I faced my fear and kept going, choosing to live instead of cower.

Finally, I finished my treatment and was allowed to travel. I felt myself coming to life as I made plans for the trip. There were moments of fear when I wondered what I was getting myself into and how I would handle it if my rental car broke down or I suddenly became ill. I trusted that along my path there would be people to help me, just as there had been through my cancer journey.

Traveling alone gave me the freedom to interact with strangers, instead of limiting my conversations to companions, whether family or friends. On this trek, I enjoyed chatting with a shop owner (a fellow North Carolinian) and with a couple hiking in Oak Creek Canyon. In the past when I talked with strangers during a family vacation, my older son, embarrassed by my spontaneity, would remark, “Mom acts like she’s just run into her best friend.”

Unencumbered, I could be in the moment. I lingered at the sight of wildflowers next to the red rocks and watched the drama of nightfall with strangers, sitting atop our cars, not worrying I’d be late for any obligation.

I left Sedona renewed.

Back at home, I resumed my pre-cancer pace with work and family responsibilities — something I said I’d never do. Over the next few years, I piled on layers of stress. My life was out of balance. Then, with my fiftieth birthday approaching, I decided to give myself the gift I really wanted, another trip alone.

I chose Jekyll Island, Georgia, where I’d previously been on a family vacation, a place with natural beauty that pulled me like the tide. Each morning I laid out my goal for the day: to move as the spirit led me, freely living in the moment. I read Psalm 103:5 that spoke about youth being “renewed like the eagle’s,” which seemed appropriate with me turning fifty and needing to unplug from a busy life. I rode my bike on the half-mile loop through the marsh, stopping to watch morning unfold, freely breaking into song without any other person in earshot.

I rode to the historic village, shaded by huge, moss-draped oaks that reminded me of the trees I played under as a girl. Sitting in the grass, I felt as if it were a childhood summer day when I spent hours with pretend friends. At night I swam in the old-fashioned hotel pool with lights that added to its turquoise allure. Moving freely about the island, I discovered I’d been drawn to a place that took me back to my childhood — a time when I was free and lived in the moment.

When I crossed over the Palmetto-lined causeway, heading home from Jekyll, I felt as rested and renewed as I had when I left Sedona. I decided I would go on a trip alone every year from then on.

Over the years, I’ve kept that promise. I’ve traveled to Martha’s Vineyard, where I had delicious conversations while staying in my first hostel. I’ve ridden my bike at sunset at Assateague Island. I’ve watched hydroplanes land on Mann’s Harbor in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. I’ve ridden a horse through a Teton meadow.

It was something that started by chance and now happens by choice. I’ve opted to live my life fully.

~Connie Rosser Riddle

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