It happens to us all. We get so caught up in life that we forget to, well, live. We forget ourselves, our loved ones. We forget what is most important. Then one day something happens that jolts us back to reality and to the things that matter most. That jolt came to me on April 8, 2019, when my mother, Geraldine, passed away. Although not my first encounter with loss, my mother’s passing devastated me in a way I had never experienced. The grief that followed was traumatic.
In the summer of that same year as my mother’s passing, I watched horrified at the burning of the Amazon Rainforest, and I found myself experiencing yet another form of grief. Until that time, I did not know one could grieve for a place known only through books and journals. Then, in winter of 2019 there was talk about a new coronavirus that was expected to be more deadly than the flu. By March of 2020 there was a nationwide call by the CDC to shelter in place. And just like that, I was cut off from friends, family, and places that brought me joy in my now-deep depression. Within an 11-month period I had mourned in ways I never knew possible.
While sheltering in place and trying to make sense of my new normal, I thought about my mom quite a bit. I missed her desperately. One memory in particular played over and over in my mind. It was a conversation one of my sisters shared with me. She shared that once my mom was complaining to her about how I had left town again—and that I had only communicated I’d be traveling after I arrived at my vacation destination. My sister explained to my mom, “Christie just likes to get up and go! You know she’s a free spirit.”
My sister said my mother declared, “I’m a free spirit too. Where do you think she got it from?” When my sister told me about this conversation, we both laughed. I remember calling Mama and joking with her that she was “the original free spirit.” In many ways my mom was right, I had inherited my desire for autonomy from her.
My mother had left an abusive marriage and started over as a single mother of seven children. Geraldine understood the cost of freedom. She had long ago discovered what had taken me some time to realize: You cannot allow yourself to be confined by individuals or institutions that would keep you bound. There is no “right time” to be free. Geraldine knew that; she knew that spirits like ours could not be constrained by time.
Standing there, staring out the living room window in my garden-level apartment and thinking about my mama, I made the decision to answer the call of my spirit. I began to plan for a 12-month sabbatical to travel, write, pray, and heal. I decided to give away most of my possessions. Although not part of the original plan, there was something cathartic about that purging process. I gave my nephew my car; a former student got my living room furniture, and I gave a friend my bedroom and guest room furniture. I donated clothes, shoes, dishes, and home décor items. I kept a few items of sentimental value and a few of my favorite outfits and shoes in a storage unit I rented.
I began my sabbatical on June 29, 2021. I started in Arizona (Phoenix, Sedona, Scottsdale) with five suitcases. My spirit led me to the desert—of all places—in the summer. I also spent time in the Dominican Republic, Florida (Tampa, Miami, Key West), Massachusetts (Boston, Amherst, Cape Cod), Rhode Island (Providence), Curaçao, California (San Diego), Virginia (Arlington), and Washington, D.C. The sabbatical challenged me in many ways. It made me realize the depth of my grief and challenged me to hold space for it and to write about it.
The sabbatical also taught me some important life lessons. The most valuable one I learned was the importance of family and friends—people who know you and love you just as you are. Here I was, living what some would consider a dream, and at times I was lonely. And, while the loneliness in no way lessened my feelings of gratitude for what God had blessed me with, it did make me realize that life is better lived with those you love by your side. As the sabbatical went on, my five suitcases became two. I replaced the other three suitcases with something more important; I replaced them with more love for self and a greater appreciation for life.
The time is now to do what you love, be with who you love, and be where you love. It took me traveling the U.S. and Caribbean for a little over a year to fully understand that. I think I’ve got it now. Thank you, Mama, for the gift of a free spirit!Leave a Comment