Easter Excursion – Part 2
The Painted Desert
March 31, 2018
I woke up Saturday, still feeling restless, homesick, and a little uncertain. Events of the past few weeks had collided into a confrontation that had included neglectful and dangerous parents, local school authorities, Child Protective Services, and the sheriff’s department, that had left me wondering why it is I was here – in an existential way – in the first place. Was I always the one who stood in the middle of the river and shouted down the torrent of ignorance, danger, and brokenness? Just how far should I go to protect this current child? Did I want an ongoing intimate role in a family with domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse? Intentional lack of education?
Considering it was Easter Saturday, and I was, once upon a time, intimately acquainted with the family rituals of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and ignorance, I had a whirlwind of emotion wreaking havoc over my internal landscape.
Hadn’t I chosen to follow a Savior who promised to be with me always? Wasn’t I the one who had chosen – or been chosen by – the Christ, so I could heal, mend, and live a life differently than the one I had been taught as a child? Am I not still alive because I chose, and believe, there is a “still more excellent way” (see 1 Corinthians 12-14)?
Easter Saturday is, after all, a reminder of the Time in Between. Jesus had promised eternal life. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, taught love, compassion, communion with God. He had warned his close companions that things were going to get rocky, confusing, dangerous.
And despite their promises to stay by him always, they didn’t. They let him down.
Jesus was taken away, tortured, ridiculed, and eventually, murdered.
Talk about confusion!
What about all those promises Jesus had made to be with the disciples always? What about His authority over demons, water, wind, waves? Surely, He could have prevented the abuse, his death, their fear!
Now, here they were, hiding in lonely places, waiting to see if they’ll be the next victim. Friendships were tested. Faith was questioned. Uncertainly reigned.
Those disciples and I have a few things in common.
Here it was, Easter Saturday, and I was questioning whether or not my God had any idea what He was doing. And if so, what did that mean for me? My family? Our safety? Our future?
I was tired of conflict, afraid my friendship with some folks I care about might not weather the recent chaos, and wondered what that meant for me and my dogs. Where would we live? How would we manage?
Never mind that these questions are always grace-fully (sic) answered by my God, I was still not confident I was going to actually like the answers that might be coming our way.
I needed to feel safe. To talk with someone I trusted. To feel at home, even if this home was about to, maybe, not be home anymore.
So, I packed the dogs into the car, and headed toward the Painted Desert, and Grandma.
Mind you, Helen Fassnacht does not physically live in the Painted Desert. But my grandmother, who was not a pushy or demanding woman, had repeatedly insisted I leave Pennsylvania at some point, and go see the Painted Desert.
I have, I do. I go there especially when I miss her. She was someplace I could go for cookies, conversation, and the promise of safety. And, I desperately needed cookies, conversation, and the promise of safety. I needed to know that I mattered, that it was a good thing to protect a child, even if it meant losing a friend. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t alone in the universe, and there were others who believed that growing away from abuse and ignorance was worth the trouble.
The Painted Desert is part of Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook, Arizona. The Petrified Forest is in the southern end of the Park, and it is not my favorite part. I prefer the Blue Mesas, and the Painted Desert of the north.
So, on Easter Saturday 2018, I stopped by the Blue Mesas (one of the best parts) where the dogs were encircled by a group of youth in training with Americorps. They volunteered to leave their homes, to unite with strangers, to learn skills needed to respond to disaster, to share their belief in the goodness of humans. These young people crowded around my Pack of four, ruffling ears, scrubbing snouts, taking a moment to feel at home in a desolate place, to find confirmation in the choices they had made, despite, feeling lonely, abandoned, isolated. One was from New York state, others came from Mississippi, South Carolina, Michigan. Together, they were going to be a positive difference in the lives of those in need. And they started with me, on a lonely day, in the middle of the desert.
We said good-bye, amid blessings and smiles. The dogs and I continued north.
At one of the last pullovers before the exit, I pulled over. A velveteen carpet of reds, pinks, greys, and browns was spread before me under an azure sky. Through my binoculars, I followed the gentle patterns of a pair of Golden Eagles riding the wind of a distant canyon. In the silence, I listened to the stories of the desert.
“What a cool planet,” I whispered to the stranger next to me.
“Yes, it is,” he whispered back. And then, for the next hour or so, we listened to the stories of each other’s lives.
He was on the road, on pilgrimage, that had started some time ago, and would, he hoped, include walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He had begun training with a full pack, hoping to be able to comfortably walk ten miles a day.
I had read recently, that if a person walks ten miles a day every day for four years, he could walk half way around the world.
Intentionally, “Bob” did not share his last name, nor his contact information. He was on his own Path, and despite the wishes of friends he’d left behind, he needed to be alone, unhindered by commitments to social media, email, cards or letters. He had been, however, beginning to write. This was enough for now. This was his journey, and he needed to do what was right for him, despite the wishes and demands of those he loved.
Confirmation that sometimes all you need is keys and a car (or, in his case, a homemade RV with solar panels on top, and room to grow inside), the road before you – and the Painted Desert.
We parted ways, allowing him to take his time traveling south to the parking lot where he would be spending the night.
Crystal Forest Museum and Gifts is one of the many places in the West that offers free overnight camping to travelers. Bathrooms are available inside when the store is open. Campers are welcome to stay in any of the “teepees”, if you don’t mind sharing with the spiders.
The dogs and I continued north, stopping in the National Park Service gift shop. I’ve been here before, too. Buying postcards, presents, and patches for friends from Away invites them to share the Painted Desert. This is no small thing in a world where sometimes it seems we are alone, standing in a torrent, feeling abandoned, isolated, and uncertain.
My grandma’s body is not in the Painted Desert, but when people asked why I had come for a visit, I answered them, “It’s Easter, and I miss my grandma.” None of them misunderstood.