There is a lovely sight on my writing table. I have a vase that is not a vase but a jar filled with flowers. Snap dragons, roses, lisianthus and ranunculus, and each stem is a sherbet hue. I can’t help but notice how beautiful they are, just at their peak, right before their end. I am especially fond of the raspberry colored ranunculus, whose neck is no longer strong enough to carry the weight of her bloom. And so she is hunched over, hung low, a life well lived. But she is not defeated; rather, she is plump and full of grace. Turned over like this, the blossom looks like the skirt of a ball gown, like folds of pink tulle. I think of dancing and hear music and the whole event of it comes together in the swell of a kiss. And I think that is how I’d like to look and be at the end of my life. But, before I die, I have to live. And all good stories are stories about adventures, I think. Though perhaps, all good stories are birth stories and death stories and love stories, too.
It wasn’t so long ago that I made a series of seemingly hazardous decisions, with no itinerary to go by and no guarantee of specific outcomes, except for the fact that the only locations I wanted to reach were beyond the longitudinal degrees of my comfort. The kind of adventure I was seeking was the kind that dreams and books and movies are made of. The kind of adventure with equal parts excitement, danger, sex, and a little romance too. The kind of adventure so harrowing that the eyes and hearts of onlookers might ask: has she lost her mind? And the appropriate answer would be: yes. Yes, she lost her mind, but I suppose that was the whole point.
I’ve learned that time passes by us at its own rhythm— I mean, haven’t you ever been caught off guard by the pace of both a waxing and waning moon? Look up at the sky sometime and see that you are but an extension of the scattered light, and perhaps the longing we feel has to do with the true distance we have from our own beginnings. Perhaps the whole journey of life is to lead us back home.
When I found myself in my late thirties with no surviving parents, no partner or children, an unfulfilled career, and a life that was achingly pretty yet vacant, I could tell that my heart was wilting.
As a baby girl, I was told I could fit in the palm of my father’s hand. And when he died, the more recent of the two passing, I asked anyone who would listen, Who’s going to take care of me? One day someone with the purity of a messenger dove said, You will. And so I accepted this one way spiritual ticket and took myself on an adventure. An adventure which aimed to exaggerate my breath and quicken my pulse. An adventure where I would meet myself head-on.
My travel plans were as follows: I would explore the rocky and unpredictable terrain of grief and while doing so, wander down paths that were different from my expectations. I would practice forgiveness and letting go. I would cultivate gardens of compassion for myself and for other people too. I would read the stories written on my own heart, as well as the stories on the hearts of other people to become a bit wiser. I would practice living with intention. And you know, there was something incredibly romantic and sentimental about the whole thing. For eight months or so, I was on the road and everyone I met along the way thought it was so cool and beautiful, that whole cowgirl thing I was doing. But the danger of claiming something as beautiful detracts from its inherent beauty. What I mean is, just because something is beautiful — like birth — doesn’t mean there isn’t also violence or pain.
I hit rock bottom. I hit rock bottom and suffered a great depression and became as blue as blue can be. I was blue but also frenetic, like a hungry and anxious bird, and at the peak of it I was homeless and considered taking my own life. There were days that my eyes cried endless and turbulent rivers. And there were days when I couldn’t sleep. And so I spent my nights counting on both hands the hours which separated me from my old life. I was existing in this strange in-between land of what was and something different, a kind of different for which I had no language for. If adventure was about the unknown or the journey as it were, I was stark in the middle of it. And there was no turning back. I was learning who I was and what I was made of. And to be honest, even though it was scary, it was perfect.
I have a locket that my mother gave me when I was sixteen years old. Sweet sixteen. Inside of it, there is a fortune which reads: Character is built on inner strength, inner strength is built on character. When I learned this lesson — that none of us know what will happen to us until it does — I also learned that it is through tragedy that we truly learn about ourselves. That it is only great pain that could lead to profound change. I also learned that the plans you have for yourself are really just plans lost in the folds of plans within plans of some largely numinous body—the universe. And so as it turns out, home is at all times, both where we started and where we are headed. We are as beautiful and strange as a nautilus: an endless, spiraling being.
What then, does adventure teach us about life, other people, and ourselves? I’ve been meditating on this for a while now and the words resiliency and hunger come to mind. Hunger might seem out of place but if you look closer, you’ll see that we are hungry people with a desire to understand our accidental existence. Adventure, however we define it, can give us some clues. When we are faced with the challenges of life, we are taught lessons of adaptation and survival. We can choose to stay the same, we can choose to change the situation by changing ourselves, or we can choose to change through an action of leaving. But all solutions rest on intentional and mindful action. And so the great responsibility then is to stand bravely with a bold and courageous heart in the face of what we fear, while holding tight to what we love. All the while, we are offering ourselves permission to be stretched beyond our comfort zones and to define what it is that matters to us. Suppose that's the only responsibility we have at all.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, painter, novice photographer and wanderer currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work wishes to tell stories in a capacity for which to assign a meaningful, accessible, and loving language to themes of loss, trauma, and heartache. Her work can be viewed on her website: ardentheart.me; IG @beautystills; or she can be contacted directly: email@example.com. She currently working on a collection of short essays.
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