I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, where every November and December, a layer of tule fog settles in. Sometimes it lifts during the day, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s so thick you can barely see the end of your car hood. That’s when you hope the road you’re on has those little raised bumps along the shoulder, so you can ride on them to guide you. We called that driving by Braille. 0/10 Do Not Recommend.
What I do recommend is walking in the fog, especially at night. There was something magical about a walk on a foggy night, when I could barely see 30 feet in front of me. But it was also easy to get disoriented, easy to lose my way. However, if I started in the right direction and put one foot in front of the other, my destination would emerge out of the fog like an apparition. It was difficult–and scary–to keep walking forward toward a destination I could not see, even though I knew it was there. I was always tempted to veer off to the side to see if I could find a familiar landmark, or to turn back and wait until my path was clearer. If I wanted to reach my destination, though, I needed to keep moving forward. Slowly. Carefully. But forward.
We all have dreams. We all have goals. We all have destinations we desperately want to reach but that seem so far distant, so shrouded in the fog of uncertainty, that we aren’t even sure they are there. I want to publish a novel. You might want to run a marathon or finish college or buy a house. None of those things are easy. None are short-term. All require setting yourself on a path and putting one foot in front of the other day after week after month after year, even when the destination seems hopelessly distant. Even when you’ve lost sight of it entirely.
And now we have a global pandemic that keeps us in our houses, keeps us afraid, and keeps us wondering if we’ll ever have a chance to do more than get up and get through. How long till marathons are a thing again? Till college classes can happen in person? Till we’ll recover economically enough to buy anything, let alone a house?
I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us knows.
But here’s what I do know: those dreams, those destinations? They still exist. Never mind walking through fog. It feels like we are sailing through a hurricane, and many of us have been blown off-course.That professional editor I wanted to hire to help me prep my first novel for querying? Gonna have to wait on that, because I may get furloughed, and raises will be canceled, and…
But on the other side of the huge waves and hulking clouds and sheeting rain, our destinations await us.
For now, though, we exist in an in-between time, between the familiar, the old normal, and whatever will come after. And right now, that new normal is shrouded in some pretty thick fog.
That phrase, in-between time, reminds me of a lovely novella by Diana Gabaldon called The Space Between. It’s set in the Outlander world and tells the story of Michael Murray and Joan MacKimmie, Jamie Fraser’s nephew and stepdaughter. Michael is grieving the death of his wife and recounts the advice he got from his brother Ian:
“That’s how ye do it,” his brother Ian had told him, as they leant together on the rail of their mother’s sheep pen, the winter’s wind cold on their faces, waiting for their da to find his way through dying. “Ye find a way to live for that one more minute. And then another. And another.” Ian had lost a wife, too, and knew.
He’d wiped his face—he could weep before Ian, while he couldn’t with his elder brother or the girls, certainly not in front of his mother—and asked, “And it gets better after a time, is that what ye’re telling me?” His brother had looked at him straight on, the quiet in his eyes showing through the outlandish Mohawk tattoos. “No,” he’d said softly. “But after a time, ye find ye’re in a different place than ye were. A different person than ye were. And then ye look about and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself. That helps.”
“Ye look about and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself.”
That line has stuck with me since the first time I read this story, and it’s come back to me many times since the coronavirus lock-down started. And many times since it started, I’ve looked around to see what’s here with me, and usually I can find a use for myself. Each day I can take one step, however small, toward my dream. I hope you can, too.