If Not Now When 2021 Edition
This foot journey I’m on, well underway, can only be done on foot. That means, for the time being, I won’t be riding my motorcycle as many miles as I traditionally have*. But if not now, when?
When that question arises as it’s been doing with increasing frequency, I know that change is in the wind. I knew I’d written about it not long ago and was surprised to see my writing posted almost a year to the day of this one.
Over the past two decades, I’ve often used it or its close relatives, “What’s to lose by (not) doing […]?” or, “What’s the worst that can happen?” in decision making.
It’s like a spiral with specific lessons placed around the circumference. Each orbit has no fixed time. Every circuit gives us a chance to hone our skills. We learn new, sometimes painful lessons, shed stories that no longer serve us, and continue on our journey. We think we’ve overcome something then wonder why it’s come back to haunt us. Yet each time it presents in new and challenging ways, and leaves us with new awareness and gifts.
The first time the “If not now when?” question rattled me from a deep slumber was twenty-three years ago. I was nearing the end of a corporate career and long-term marriage. It formed the title of a book that caught my eye. While I don’t remember much about the book, it goaded me into action.
Sometimes it’s only in looking back on our path that we can see the patterns. I see it in my writing. When I wrote Women, Motorcycles, and the Road to Empowerment, I interviewed many other women riders who had the courage to share their stories. They recounted how they’d discovered strengths they’d used both on the motorcycle and in other parts of their life.
There was no mention of my story in the first draft. While I was comfortable writing about anyone else, I didn’t think my story was anything special, or was worth telling. The truth was, I wasn’t yet ready to go down that road. After insistence from editors and other professionals, I compromised and included a “Liz light” version.
A decade later, at age sixty, I realized that if I wanted to make the most of the rest of my life, I had to peel back layers of armor to understand myself. For decades I’d suppressed my rich heritage, the stories of my ancestors, and the role they played in shaping me. I set out on a quest looking for answers to how their experiences lived through me. I also wanted to understand how the stories of the land lived in me. If not then, when would I do it?
If you’ve read Crash Landing, you’ll know I had to get off my motorcycle for a period of time to sit with those questions and wait for the answers. My motorcycle had delivered me so far and for a while, I continued alone on a journey more inward than outward. I returned to riding to complete that cross-country trek, following the migration my grandparents had taken ninety years earlier. The revolution around that spiral took me to a profound reconnection and reconciliation with my ancestry and my Self.
A gentle nudge while in Alberta’s Writing-on-Stone Park in September 2019 reminded me I still had work to do. While walking amongst the hoodoos, I heard a message telling me the land had stories I needed to listen to and share. I assumed that meant returning to southern Alberta the following summer.
The pandemic that strangled the globe changed everyone’s plans. There was no motorcycle trip to Alberta, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t listen to the call of the land. Although disappointed, I could spend time in nature close to home, walking and listening. The Bruce Trail, a 900 km footpath and UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, passes near my home. I’ve ambled the trail most days since last August.
Motorcycling across open country is a profound experience. I expect to continue it for many years. But walking has slowed me down. Riding a motorcycle requires layers of physical protection (for me). Shedding them, has opened an even more intense, insightful, and sensory experience.
Now my feet are in constant contact with the earth. I sense minute temperature changes, breezes, or the rain pelting my skin. Without engine and wind noise, a helmet, and ear plugs, I hear birdsong as the winged ones twitter, chirp, and whistle. There’s even a draft from their wings as they take off. My tactile senses engage as my bare fingers move across the rough texture of the bark of the maple trees. The cedar boughs caress as I walk the narrow path between them. The shower of new-fallen snow startles me as I brush against a spruce.
Looking around at whatever space I’m in, I inhale the atmosphere I share with the other beings who inhabit it. I stop and sit on a moss-covered rock or outcrop and take in my surroundings. In warmer times, I stick my toes in the stream. Yesterday I made a snowball, then placed it in an open stream. Fascinated, I watched it dance with the current, slowly melting as it became one with the water.
The land has been forthcoming with many stories. Slowing down and spending time in nature has revealed a new understanding of connectedness. It’s a message for the times, and a hint of the stories the land wishes me to listen to and share. Indeed, it’s a message for all of us.
If not now, when?
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*Even if any semblance of travel of any kind is feasible and I’m comfortable with it