“You have arrived at your destination.”
I know I am not the first person to hear those words from a navigation system, look around, and reply acidly, “I don’t think so.” In this case the deceptively helpful voice had guided me to the middle of a highway in Southern Louisiana—decidedly not where I had intended to be.
It was just one of many occasions in the past year that started me thinking, “What am I doing here?” This is not what I had planned for myself. I never expected to spend my whole life in New York’s mid Hudson valley, but when dreaming of all the places I might go, the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain had not been even close to making the list.
Moving here felt like moving farther away from my goals—away from the publishing capital of the world; away from my harp circle, my friends; away from trees that change with the season, from talkative streams running down to a great maternal river, oh, and from mountains—really, elevation of any kind. Here, the closest thing you find to a hill is a pitcher’s mound.
The thing is, this wasn’t my choice. After a lifetime of saying that she could not and would never live in the hot and humid south, my then 68 year old mother had decided that it was time to do just that. It made sense. Because my sister is the only one of my siblings to have children, this is where the highest concentration of our family was living. My mother had missed one confirmation and one life-threatening injury, and that was enough for her. Due to my chronic ill health and my consequent financial dependence on her, I felt I had little choice but to come with her. Even so, I interrogated myself: Was I being too weak? Should I figure out a way to stay on my own? This move could be right for her, but for me?
It’s not that I don’t like it here. I do. I like the crepe myrtle trees whose vibrant pink blossoms keep coming back, again and again, almost all year. I like the flowering honeysuckle and confederate jasmine intoxicating the humid air in the spring—even though they make me sneeze. I like the wisteria and the Spanish moss that artfully drapes itself over majestic live oaks. I like the sharp blades of the saw palmetto and watching palms expand from a compact cone of leaves, as if opening their arms to the whole world. I like the towering pines that play host to owls and hawks. I like the sleek, grey slugs that regally slide across a sidewalk and the gargantuan dragonflies—multifaceted in blue, brown, or green—coasting past my face in the teeming sunshine. I like the chorus of the many species of frogs each thick summer night. And the green anoles that scamper up and down the stairwell in front of our apartment—especially the one that greeted us when we arrived on that dark Halloween morning a year ago.
I like the fact that I can get luscious satsumas (a citrus fruit introduced to this area by Jesuits in the 18th century) straight from the farm. I like living in a parish (Louisiana for county) named for an Amerindian chief who was never actually canonized (St. Tammany). I like that people take every opportunity to decorate—often with great flashy swathes of ribbon. I like the sign in a favorite local eatery that reads, “In the south, we don’t hide our crazy. We parade it on the front porch and give it a cocktail.”
I like that I accidentally met up with my sister at Walmart. And I like seeing my nieces and nephew so much, being able to go to plays and games. I like kissing boo-boos and giving congratulatory hugs. Honestly, if I go a few days without seeing one of them, I find myself thinking about how much I miss them! And the real miracle? After a year, my sister’s children aren’t sick of us.
My mother recently thanked me for driving her down here—24 hours straight with 2 cats and a harp. And a part of me felt like, okay I got you here, now I should do something else. I admire my mom for making this choice—which for her has proven to be the right one. She is an example of guts, of knowing when to listen to the foolish voice in your head that tells you it’s time to turn your whole world upside down.
So does that mean I should take my own journey? Turn my world upside down for my own reasons? Is this where I’m supposed to be? Actually, yeah. And the reason for that is as uncomplicated as it is uninspired: It’s where I am. For all my machinations, my mental teeth-gnashing about what is “right” for me, when I allow myself to be here—to wonder at the feathery marsh plants collecting the sunshine, to hold my niece as she carefully examines my hands, to greet people with no expectations—I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
It’s like when the ridiculously mistaken voice from MapQuest informed me that I had arrived at my destination and I pulled over and started fiddling with my phone to figure out what had gone wrong and how I could possibly make it right. After a few moments of frustration, I just stopped and looked around—not to see what I should do next, but just took it in, and there, on my right, was a sea of red globular spikes, sparkling in the sunshine—crimson clover. As I breathed in the wonder of the moment, I had to admit that maybe the know-it-all voice hadn’t been entirely wrong—though I hadn’t intended it to be, perhaps this had been my destination—or one of them—all along.