Then there is that moment; after heading west out of Hicks Cut and south down the Old Natchez Trace trading route through lowlands and burial grounds, after crossing the Mississippi River and feeling her pull (there is something otherworldly about the longing in her stretch), after Austin and Dalton and laughing until my sides hurt (my brother Dalton, made of light), after miles of sunbathed West Texas highway and playing the Dixie Chick's Wide Open Spaces on repeat there is that moment... The oh damn, I am really alone right now moment. It is a sharp intake of breath in a canyon in northern Texas because I haven't seen this many stars since I was in Kentucky and I am almost certain I left a piece of my heart on Jellico Creek. It is a slow exhale under a waxing moon because I am entirely present in being alone and I am almost certain there is strength in solitude. It is weary tears along Route 66 into New Mexico because I am tired and my heart is remembering all its aches and I am almost certain that the desert is for healing because there is so much room to grieve. It is a warm sip of hot chocolate at a motel in Tucumcari because the kindness of strangers and a good night's rest and I am entirely certain I am not really alone because I carry everyone I have ever loved with me and also cellphones.
For the past few months everything I write and feel revolves around the push and pull of belonging to a place and longing to experience new places. There is the pull of Heron and Alder's little arms around my neck when they hug me and tell me they love me, of waving to my Dad in his office parking lot, of kissing my Grandma Nancy on the forehead and wishing I could take her heartache with me, of Mama, Jane, Luke and Ginna waving in my rearview mirror... Then there is the push of All Roads Headed West and of all the unknowns this journey contains.
The first stop after leaving home for the foreseeable future, was to attend the first meeting for the STAY Steering Committee at the Highlander Center in New Market Tennessee. The contradiction of leaving my home to be a part of a group of young people that are making a commitment to stay and help others stay and thrive in Appalachia is not lost on me. But in that space at Highlander with all those amazing and inspiring humans I felt more comfortable inhabiting the push and the pull.
Turns out it is possible to concurrently hold two opposing truths in my heart. I suppose the structure of my anatomy functions best between the dichotomy of stay and go. Stay because this is my home, because I want Eli, Heron and Alder to know their home, because Appalachian Love Stories, because I am committed to social and environmental justice in Appalachia. Go because I have to, because I told myself I would, because I'm curious, because by experiencing different geographies I will have a better understanding of the work that needs to be done in Appalachia, because I won't be able to stay if I don't leave first, because nothing is final, because there is opportunity waiting. Go because I know all the way down in my bones that I will always return here, I am of this geography, these mountains, they are my home. Stay because I want to.
*follow me on my travels on Instagram lnmurrey #allroadsheadedwest
Johnson City Tennessee, 2:00 AM, November 1st 2015:
Fall back into the longest night of the year: drink bourbon out of a plastic boot from the Dixie Stampede, laugh until my sides hurt, play music till the upstairs neighbors stomp on the floor... Fall back into long evenings after being caught in the fall back of letting a reckless summer hold my face in his hands when he kissed me.
Johnson City Tennessee, 2:00 AM (again), November 1st 2015:
Fall back into the longest night of the year: finish the last of the bourbon, feel it in my finger tips, sit next to Joy and be overcome with gratitude (the world is a brighter place because of her), sing a little louder, let "Loretta guide us forward and Jesus get our back..." Fall back into the warmth of this room and keep playing Dolly Parton songs because the upstairs neighbors ain't home.