I don’t usually buy firewood. This was the first time on the trip. Since I don’t use it to cook, it seems an unnecessary expense, a luxury. I was feeling a little depressed and lonely so I sprung for a $7 bundle from the Lemolo Lake Campground shop. No one was there. I just took the wood. Paid in the morning.
Lemolo Lake is 15 miles from the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. I was there for marathon number 15. I decided to stay at Lemolo Lake instead of in the park because the campground has showers. It was cold, falling to the low 30s at night. There was no chance for precipitation then but you know it is coming. Fall is short. The park headquarters at Crater Lake gets on average 43 feet of snow a year. Lemolo Lake, at a lower elevation, gets less but still an impressive amount. The campground had already made the turn toward the off-season. Maybe a few more weekends of fisherman but then quiet until the snowmobiles invade.
The fire lifted my spirits much more than I ever thought it would. I sat next to it reading my Kindle periodically turning my chair to warm my other side. I felt good there.
Bob covered his bald head with a cap. He wore his glasses like they were part of him. His salt and pepper beard closely trimmed even after several days camping. He stopped by to be friendly; say hello. I offered him a beer. He went to his space and came back with a camp chair.
He was there to do some fishing before it got too cold. He came up on his own. He was planning to retire in two weeks. He and his wife were going to travel and live full time in a large RV.
He told me about his life working with glass. I listened to details of types of glass, methods of cutting and installation. He had many jobs in the industry over the years. He admitted many of the years were lean but he made it through. He even owned his own business for a while but decided management wasn’t for him. He enjoyed working with his hands too much. He swears he can outwork a man half his age. While not an imposing figure, I don’t doubt him.
He told me that his body is wrecked. He is moving around well but for all rights shouldn’t be. He crushed three vertebrae, had two knee surgeries and several other significant injuries. He said watching his body deteriorate with age is like a Stephen King novel.
He attributes recovery from all his injuries and professional challenges to his positive attitude. He doesn’t complain. He works hard. And he is proud of his work.
We talked that night and then around his fire the next. I told him about my project, why I decided to change and what I thought I might get from my trip.
I told him all about sitting at a desk in New York City which sounded appalling to him. I told him about marathoning which also sounded appalling. It was like talking to a old friend to which time and circumstance has made the discussion like new.
Bob sprinkled words of wisdom throughout. Some recommendations I had heard before like don’t wait until you are older or retired to life your life. He made sure to tell me that even at my age of 45 I was still young enough with enough vitality to be able to accomplish many things. He lamented that there can be physical limits you hit once you get over 60 especially if you’ve had a tough profession.
He encouraged me to write a book about my trip. He said “What happens to you is important. People want to hear your story. People like human interest stories.” I’m not sure which was brighter in the Oregon night, his positive attitude or our campfire. It was like he was trying to draw the light out of me one simple honest phrase at a time.
One of the last things he said to me before we parted on the last evening was emphatic: “As you go through life be aware not of what you are but of who you are.” In the context of our discussion he was really trying to drive home to not get caught up in the distractions of the world so much you lose track of yourself, your reason for being, your joy for life. His phrase has stuck with me.
Before my trip my job, apartment and city were my persona. These made up what I was not who I was. The time on the project allowed me to explore this aspect of myself. I continue to explore it every day. It sounds cliche but it is a journey. The more it becomes more concrete, the more it changes. For me I am growing past the professional title, the car, fancy home. I am growing into myself.
This doesn’t mean slacking. This doesn’t mean sitting in a cave muttering to you yourself. This doesn’t mean forgoing a corporate job. This doesn’t mean letting your responsibilities or relationships flap and sputter. It doesn’t mean being unsuccessful financially.
It does mean finding something that engages you. It does mean exploring. It does mean taking time amidst all the chatter, professional and family responsibilities to make sure to feed your spirit. It does mean growing every day. Not being fulfilled takes away the best you can be from the world.
None of this is easy but you don’t need to take a year off from work or engage in some extreme sport. It can start with a few minutes each day. Write down the questions below and put them near your bed. Read them every morning before you start your day. Don’t spend more than one to two minutes thinking about them (while brushing your teeth perhaps). This is not a deep introspective exercise. This is priming. With the questions top of mind they will either cause stress throughout the day signaling that you you are out of alignment with your true desires or they will reinforce that you are on the right path.
- How are my daily activities in alignment with my personal values?
- How do I serve others in a way that best uses my talents?
- How will I grow today?
An old glass worker told me and I share with you, be aware not of what you are but of who you are, and make that person better every day.