The Road Goes Ever On And On

The parts of me that went offline because of depression are starting to come back online.

That’s usually a thing to be pleased about.

This time, it’s inconvenient.

I woke up this morning in a mood. I recognized this mood. I’ve lived with it since I was a young child. Restlessly wanting more and different and somewhere else. A desire to explore wooded paths and climb mountains and follow rivers to their source. To set my feet in places they’ve never been before.

Wanderlust.

Why is feeling wanderlust a problem? Why is it inconvenient? Because it’s almost always followed by feeling trapped, because I am trapped. And that feeling and recognition of being trapped can bring about depression. I can already feel it there skittering around the edges of thought.

I thought back over my life trying to pinpoint how far back the twin feelings of wanderlust and being trapped could be traced and found that it was moving to Florida at age 8. No wonder I always resented Florida. It represented the beginning of the end of my freedom to wander.

I’d taken that freedom for granted growing up in rural Nebraska. From a very young age I was given the freedom to roam. I followed cow paths and creeks and ditches. I dug for rusted “treasures” in the field behind our farmhouse. I played among the fancy tombstones of an abandoned graveyard. I climbed up hills and rolled down them. I wandered through barns and other outbuildings. I climbed hay bales and slipped through fences. I climbed trees and collected wildflowers.

I was still given some freedom to roam when we relocated to suburban Florida, but what was there to see? Rows of bland houses and bland yards, none of which I was free to enter even had I wanted to. Block after block of the same. If there were creeks and ditches to be found, they’d be lined with litter. It was hot and humid and there were fire ants and giant palmetto bugs and the looming threat of stranger danger. It just wasn’t the same.

I’d never noticed the feeling of wanderlust before. I’d never felt trapped until then.

I buried myself in speculative fiction. I stepped onto the road that goes ever on and on, and it led me to the paths of the Old Forest, Mirkwood and Fanghorn. I crossed into Albion and marveled at the silence. I sailed a ship to the mysterious islands beyond Narnia. I trekked to Watership Down and Efrafa. I visited Llyr and the Free Commots and Annuvin. I lived in a cursed castle inhabited by invisible servants and a beast. I ran from demons in tunnels beneath an ancient elven fortress. Got stranded on a strange planet and built a rudimentary civilization alongside my fellow students.

It wasn’t enough. Outside of the fiction I still ached for more and different and somewhere else. I couldn’t find a magic portal or fly away in a space ship but there were planes and trains and boats. Oceans and continents to cross. Beaches and mountain ranges and rivers and islands and forests. Cathedrals and mosques and temples and castles and ruins. Huge ancient cities and small villages.

Travel was a dream shared by my second-oldest sister. We were finally galvanized to pursue it when our stepfather, tired of hearing repeated wistful complaints about what we wanted to do, suggested we just do it. We hadn’t grown up being encouraged to pursue dreams. We were supposed to search out God’s will for our life, which was almost certainly not going to be ‘go have fun!’ Hearing an adult say we should pursue a dream as if he believed we could succeed was an epiphany.

My sister and I arrived in Ireland two days before my 18th birthday. We’d saved up money for our air fare and expenses, which wasn’t as much as we’d feared before we started researching. In the month we spent exploring the island we spent less for youth hostels, groceries and bus rides than we had spent to reach Ireland in the first place. It was an amazing month and we hated to leave.

My 38th birthday is next week. It’s 20 years almost to the day.

I thought, back then, that it was just the beginning. I planned to repeat what we’d accomplished. I’d work in the US and save money until I had enough for air fare and expenses and then I’d go to one of the destinations on my list. I’d come back and get a new job and start the process again, indefinitely.

It didn’t work out that way. Travel wasn’t God’s will for my life, you see. Marriage, motherhood, domestic life and submission. That was God’s will for my life. Life wasn’t about pursuing dreams and being happy. Life was about service and sacrifice and giving up what you wanted so that you could live a life God found acceptable. There was no use pursuing dreams if God wanted you to do something else. If you loved something more than you loved Him, and pursued it instead, He would take it away from you, for your own good.

I couldn’t force myself to love what I hated. I couldn’t force myself to forget what I craved. Twenty years later and I still dislike and feel trapped by settled, domestic life. I still feel that ache for more and different and something else.

My roots are chains.

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