As a girl growing up in Nevada, I loved rain. I would sit in my room complete with its dusty rose wallpaper, daybed with white ruffle comforter set, watch and listen to the fat drops of rain hit my window and I would write poetry. I would go outside and revel in the smell of water hitting the dry earth and listen to the crack and roll of the thunder in the mountains surrounding the already elevated and semi-arid town. The poetry was often about rain and it was also about being someplace else, someplace different than where I was growing up in the not-so-obsolete wild west of Northern Nevada. I wanted city life and new experiences and there was a part of me craving something soulful, moody, poetic and articulate like the crooning songs of The Cure. I also craved opportunities and education, a way to continue growing and a chance to move away. My junior year of high school, I researched liberal arts colleges and sent away – by mail – for brochures and application packets with fervor and I lugged out the big leather bound encyclopedia volumes contained by our antique bookcases that referenced Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That was where I was headed one day and it was more a knowing than a decision. I learned about Seattle’s demographics, its climate, its area colleges, the level of schooling its residents tended to achieve and about its budding artists and musicians. It was everything that was appealing and fanciful to me in its cosmopolitan, edgy, earthy, educated way. And it rained!
As those years passed, the scope narrowed for me and I chose to go to college a bit closer to home. I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This was the extreme opposite of the drizzly Pacific Northwest of my imaginings. In fact, Las Vegas has an average yearly rainfall of approximately 21 days. Per an ENTIRE year. Though lacking in my idealized climate conditions, the move did, most certainly, fulfill important aspects of the other criteria I valued: it was away and it was an education offering independence, individuality and in-state tuition…”in” to the 3rd degree, one might say. The popular Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, tells us that “every moment is the guru” and that all experiences are teachers. The education I received in the desert was filled with unlikely teachers. There were bright lights, showgirls, pit bosses, dorm rooms with Pepto-Bismol pink and 90’s teal hallways, and as many 101 classes as one could fathom. There were finals weeks, residential assistant leadership trainings, kamikaze cocktails mixed inside (I’m sure, very clean) bathtubs, casino implosions, and $1 steak and eggs after a long night of dancing or playing nickel poker depending on what the college budget would allow. There existed friendships in transition with beginnings and endings, heartbreak and break-ups, lessons about responsibility, bouts of depression, epic western road trips and trips back “home” for the summer to work in my parents’ restaurant and to get ahead in credits by taking transferable classes at the local Community College.
Intermingled throughout these times were also the moments that led to meeting and marrying my husband. He, the young man that he was, had moved to Las Vegas through an academic exchange program with his college in Montana, the state where he grew up. The story goes that we did not like each other when we first met because he thought I was too uptight and I thought he had bad manners. The deeper truth, I believe now, is that we were drawn to each other right away though the conscious ticking of boxes of a 20 year-old’s dating criteria didn’t add up in those earlier interactions. Nonetheless, our relationship grew out of endless games of rummy, smoke breaks and conversations about being raised in small towns and about how open-minded we thought ourselves to be. 1996 was the year our relationship reached exclusive status. We were married in 1998 and have since celebrated our 18th wedding Anniversary, 20 years together. Succinctly stated, these have been hard earned and beautifully rich years.
During the formative period of college and my 20’s, my longings for the rain and Pacific Northwest had not ceased and were only strengthened by the movie Singles. I watched Singles over and over and over again carefully transporting the bulky recorded-from-TV VHS tape – with its title scrawled in purple highlighter on the sticky label – to my various rooms and apartments. I adored this film, the community it depicted and how it reinforced the life and sense of connection I could possibly have in that corner of the world. My apartment complex would surely house Eddie Vedder, Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon and Kyra Sedjwick, right?!? What was unquestionable was that my heart still wanted to move there. And my husband-to-be was willing to take the leap with me.
In the pause following my undergraduate schooling, I researched catalogs and applied to graduate schools (still in hard copy and by mail) and interviewed and was accepted into Portland State University’s Graduate Counseling program. At the time, the tech industry was strong again in the region and my husband found a job right away. We moved to Portland, OR a few weeks after our wedding and we arrived in town the day my husband had his final interview with the company he worked with for 15 years. In fact, he was digging through boxes searching for dress shoes and a tie as his brother, who lived in a neighboring suburb, and I slowly lugged loads of belongings into our small rented apartment in the West Hills. Cue Art Alexakis from the band Everclear singing about buying “that big house way up in the West Hills” along with the daydreams his song inspired. It wasn’t a mansion, it was a 900 sqft apartment and it was the beginning of my life’s dream of living in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday shortly before we moved, my husband, his parents and I visited his brother and some friends of ours who had recently relocated to Portland. We were downtown at the well-known Pioneer Square district walking the festive streets, shopping, meeting friends, drinking (awesome) coffee and enjoying the fact that there was, truly, a Starbuck’s on every corner. As the afternoon turned to evening, we witnessed the pouring in of Portland inhabitants filling the square and surrounding stairs and platforms endearingly referred to as the city’s “living room”. These diverse citizens were showing up, in the rain, to attend the Pioneer Courthouse Square Tree Lighting ceremony. It was cold and dreary yet jovial and people arrived in droves for this annual event that consists of an hour of waiting, sipping cocoa and singing carols until the 10 second countdown that heralds the lighting of over 14,000 LED lights on a magnificent 75 foot Douglas Fir tree. Instantly, we were sold, in love and ready to live in a city that had such a sense of community, energy, and willingness to celebrate and stand in the cold dampness of November for a seemingly brief undertaking. We garnered our present and future selves and we leapt and lived and established homes and filled our family with babies and pets, built and cared for our careers and community and circle of friends in this, our beautiful Rose City. In the following 18 years, rarely, did we miss a Pioneer Square Tree Lightening for that was what this was all about for us – family, community, and connection with something greater. We settled in alongside the rain. There was a lot of that, too.
And now we have moved. After nearly two decades and finally feeling more connected and comfortable than ever, we relocated our family to Montana. This decision did not happen lightly or swiftly. The decision was the result of deep considerations and many years of homebound conversations on the return from our annual summer stay at my husband’s hometown and family home. Each voyage, we would ponder, muse, and question what life would be like if we moved there and we agreed there was a longing in that direction despite the carefully constructed life we were already leading. Circumstances and timing merged and the opportunity presented itself to buy the beautiful home and property that has remained in the family for over one hundred years. Once the decision was made, we dedicated 8 months to the transition in order to offer our three children and ourselves ample time and energy to plan, adjust and feel through what a change of this magnitude means. Grief, excitement, hope, possibility, fear and courage filled the rooms of our home and of our hearts as the months progressed.
The physical move was upon us and the preparation, planning, purging and packing – the four “P’s” – inspired a multitude of walks through my memories and aspirations. On one morning in particular, I was sitting at a stoplight driving back from a dentist appointment (one of the many errands to be done before The Move) and thoughts were drifting in and out about my dear friends and the Bon Voyage party and nights out planned in the coming week. I was thinking of certain friends’ qualities and histories and what each of them has meant to me. I thought of how I used to love Singles and how I could see these particular friends of mine living in that quaint Seattle dwelling exchanging dating stories and wearing sideways ponytails while doing laundry in the communal basement. In that instance, the reality hit like a velvet hammer – I had unequivocally lived my dream of the Pacific Northwest! I, unequivocally, became an adult here. I formed friendships- many lasting and some not- with undeniably interesting and soulful people. I made many turns that supported my best interests and actualized my dreams and some turns that were questionable yet dense and full with growth. I birthed 4 beautiful babies, experienced tremendous grief and loss, and walked through the dark labyrinths of the past that the enormity of motherhood unearthed for me. I experienced a rock bottom of sorts and personal upheaval as I gave voice and light to my truth and sense of self and I saw, genuinely, what it means to stay with and save a marriage. As I experienced this life unfolding, I also walked with others as a counselor and educator, showing up and believing firmly that I could only travel with and facilitate others in growth and healing to the extent that I would be willing to heal and learn and grow myself.
Through this flurry of knowing at what presented as a benign – albeit long – stoplight, sadness and apprehension came in waves as I lamented leaving this earliest of dreams I had just registered attaining in full. In another flash of knowing, a felt sense washed over me: I was not leaving my dream; I was living the continuation of it. This realization illuminates my lifelong blind spot: living a dream or a truth is not isolated achievements nor is it a finite occurrence. Living one’s dreams and truths is a process. Life, with its hopes, conceptions, triumphs and wounds, is a combination of moments that are light and dark, joyful and difficult, complex, predictable, simple, mundane and mysterious. In the past, I would say this is an unsettling and conquerable mix of elements. Now, I am tempted to say it’s a delicious unconquerable amalgamation though, my innermost voice says it’s all of it – what we have control and license over and what we must simply flow with and accept in its apparent disjointedness. It is what we have the eyes to see and the intention to hold with an open hand.
We arrived late on a Summer evening in June as a caravan of the Kia minivan complete with teenage son and freaked out guinea pig and the U-haul truck containing “The Littles”, as we sometimes refer to our younger son and daughter, along with the remaining contents of our SE Portland home. The sky was still light and pastel with shadings of pale yellow, soft lavender and sherbet orange, the thunderhead clouds towered dark and ominous in their grays and deep blue hues and the lightening cracked and audibly snapped across the Big Sky in ripples of bright white electricity. This seemed to match the anticipation and anxiety we were feeling as we landed at our new home. As a family, we are embracing this life in Montana. As an individual, I am on the precipice of old and new – both internally and externally. My identity as a healer, educator and working mother is shifting and the new endeavors of my imaginings are returning me to my origins of writing and poetry and inciting both inspiration and a yearning for a slower pace centered on authenticity and connection.
Here I am, residing in a small town in Montana, living this dream in continuation with an open hand and willing heart and this blog is my offering to the world as I transition and it is my process of owning the wisdom of my own story. My hope is that this site will be a place of exploration, connection, and encouragement as I offer thoughts, experiences and musings on mindfulness, creativity, mental health and wellness, personal growth, transitions, mid-life, particular leaders and inspiring writers, motherhood, womanhood, shared humanity and truly knowing and caring for oneself. I am grateful for any and all who join in this endeavor.
~ Angela Lehr
P.S. Read more about me in Who I Am!