NavPress Publishing Group
Prologue Holding My Breath
Part 1 Breathing In
Chapter 1 Breaking the Surface
Chapter 2 Airing Out
Chapter 3 Sitting Still
Chapter 4 Digging Down
Chapter 5 Ready to Exhale
Part 2 Breathing Deep
Chapter 6 Dreaming Wide
Chapter 7 My Life Stories—Part 1
Chapter 8 My Life Stories—Part 2
Chapter 9 My Life Stories—Part 3
Chapter 10 Overlooked Provisions
Chapter 11 It’s About Time
Chapter 12 Breaking Protocol
Chapter 13 Somewhere Out There
Chapter 14 Humility
Chapter 15 My Ultimate Epitaph
Chapter 16 Questioning “Success”
Chapter 17 Reinvention
Chapter 18 Life Art
Chapter 19 The Shoe Incidents
Chapter 20 Renewal
Part 3 Breathing Free
Chapter 21 Braving the Elements
Chapter 22 Testaments
Chapter 23 Dribbles of Childhood
Chapter 24 The Bug Man
Chapter 25 True North
Chapter 26 The Provision of His Presence
Chapter 27 Between the “Was” and the “Not Yet”
Chapter 28 Reckless Trust
Chapter 29 Emancipation
Chapter 30 The Love of the Game
Chapter 31 Being Available
Chapter 32 Preserving Sabbath Space
Chapter 33 Sweet Confirmations
Chapter 34 Broken Bread Feeds Many
About the Author
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.—Gandhi
A while back, I had a life-disconnect.
I don’t know what triggered it. It wasn’t major regret or terrible crisis. I had achieved many of my dreams, and I loved what my hands had found to do. All I know is that something just didn’t feel right about it all. From time to time, I felt my life separate from me as though it belonged to someone else. It was as if I was fulfilling a role that was familiar but, in truth, was not my own.
It wasn’t always that way. What began as an uphill trek with me at the front of my life, guiding and pulling where I wanted, somewhere along the way became inverted. The momentum of my journey overtook me, and when I came to, I was no longer leading—I was running to catch up.
What ensued was a series of awakenings more than anything else—a series of small discoveries that left me with questions and feelings of greater realities that seemed just beyond my grasp. I was alone there in this “in between.” I was touching but not feeling, breathing but not refreshed. I was moving through life like an alien visitor, insulated in a bubble—a sensory buffer that left me feeling removed.
Mind you, it wasn’t like that every day but just enough to signal that I was losing touch with my own life. The daily routine that should have felt comforting seemed confining, mundane, and, I guess—with some deep-seated remnant of a Baby Boomer work ethic—too easy. And so as it is with me and these things, I took drastic measures.
As I look back now, I’m just thankful that I didn’t choose to cut off my hair and revise my first name to something confusing ending with a vowel, like “Maggeii.” Instead, I opted to regroup and assess my life.
What follows is an account of what that regrouping was like. It’s messy. It’s funny. It’s tragic and true. Some of what you read will be in journal form and some in just plain story form, because just like life, it has all come to me in misshapen, untamed spurts that resist structure. These thoughts and experiences inevitably wound up archived in my brain, or on napkins and boarding passes, or in old folders on my computer with detailed file names like “stuff” and “more stuff.”
And that is just how my life has been: anything but orderly. This whole journey has been an evolution of learning more than it’s been a time line. This is how my soul “came to.” This is how my eyes were opened. This is how I have meandered through words, not always able to reach a point.
December 1995. I thought I was just taking a long vacation, four weeks to be exact. I needed it.
This vacation was going to be unlike any other I’d ever known. I was going to unplug entirely and do absolutely nothing. No phone calls. No faxes. No check-ins to the office. No long overdue work related projects. No catching up on correspondence. No self-help makeovers. Just nothing. Wide-open calendar space. Nothing written in the whole month. A time to be indulgent. Sleep till noon. Play Solitaire with real playing cards. Watch endless reruns of Columbo. Eat chocolate for breakfast. That kind of vacation.
I was used to traveling. I’m a singer, or a writer, or a speaker—depending on whom you ask. In fact, I never know what to write on forms that ask for my occupation, because what I do has felt like pleasure and play for most of my life. It’s a living by default. Most of the time, I feel guilty listing it as “work.”
The worst I can say about my career over the past two decades is that the travel gets old. Packing and unpacking take it right out of me. Who would’ve thought that finding the correct underwear and shirt could be such a mental drain or that sitting motionless for hours mesmerized by the din of jet engines could be such a chore?
But even on the worst days, with delays, close-connection “travel sweat,” hunger pangs, and middle seats, it sure beats bill collecting at Sears. And this is my mantra as I run thirteen gates in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, trying to beat my best time of four minutes.
With each step I remember the “Rs”: Reilly, Restuchia, Richards, Richenstein, Romano, Ruggiero. The names of people that I was responsible to “shake down” for Mr. Sears and Roebuck in my first “real job” after college. What a miserable occupation for someone like me. Half the time, I’d take part of my own paycheck and pay on the delinquent accounts. Trying to collect money from people who just don’t have any is hard enough, but when you add the duty of talking to a woman about repossessing her washer and dryer or, worse yet, her refrigerator, you’re placing your life on the line. I had to do it under an assumed name. It was just too dangerous otherwise.
Seems like it was a million years ago, yet the memory of it is like a growling dog whose breath I feel at my heels, ready to nip if I don’t keep moving. And I had spent years doing just that—moving, going, being, fulfilling obligations and dreams, running from the dogs—to the point of exhaustion. Not physical exhaustion. That would be a handy excuse to do what I ended up doing. It’s deeper than that, harder to justify to others. Exhaustion somewhere deep inside, the kind that makes a person overly sensitive or never able to catch up in life. It’s the kind of fatigue that permeates everything yet leaves no calling card. You can barely explain it because it’s everything and nothing all at the same time.
It was sometime earlier in 1995 that I woke up in a hotel room for the hundredth time, again unable to remember where the bathroom was, that I came face-to-face with my exhaustion in a way I couldn’t deny. Stumbling first to the closet and then into the faux maple dresser, I fell inelegantly onto the Barcalounger, where I was forced to assess my surroundings. My eyes adjusted slowly in the dark: basic brass floor lamp overhead, coarse, nubby upholstery on the chair, TV bleeding through the wall next door . . . ah, yes, the Comfort Inn.
I sat there for a while, wondering if all frequent travelers have these hotel blackouts. And after a little while, the Barca started to actually feel like a good place to meditate on the current state of my life. When the sleep timer on my neighbor’s TV went off, I asked myself the question that any hardworking overachiever hates to ask: When was the last time I had a vacation? And the even more frightening, When was the last time I truly relaxed?
I had to turn on my computer to find the answer. Consulting the calendar, I scrolled furiously until the tiny little watch icon popped up on the screen, warning me not to push my luck. I went back years. I couldn’t find the last time. There was no last time since escaping the growling dog at twenty-five.
Swathed there in the yellow light illuminating from the hotel parking lot, I dreamed the impossible dream: to escape. Escape from my life with no guitars and cords, no oversized baggage, no “work”—just for a while. Escape to a beach, the place that has always held the sights and sounds of freedom for me. When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, summer vacations were always filled with endless days on the Atlantic shore. They had a trance-like effect on reality, blending one day into the other, until school, responsibility, and structure seemed concepts as foreign as taking cod liver oil for all that ails you.
I hatched my plan at the Comfort Inn. By morning, I was on the Internet researching good beach deals. I wanted something cheap, not too hot, right on the water, secluded and clean. I settled on Destin, Florida, next winter, after all the year’s obligations were fulfilled.
I needed time. Time alone. Time away. Downtime. Just time.
The following week, I told my record company, my booking agent, my managers, and my family about my decision. The standard response was, “Is everything okay? Are you in some sort of crisis?” I felt foolish trying to explain it. Why does something have to be desperately wrong before a person is excused from the daily grind?
My answer was disjointed and seemingly deceptive. There was nothing massively wrong. I just felt out of touch with my life, like it was ahead of me, always slightly out of my reach. I was chasing it rather than leading it, and catching up only from time to time. I’d almost wished I had a big crash or crisis on which to blame my need to retreat, because with each subsequent explanation, the whole thing sounded more and more self-indulgent. But in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t. I feared that if I didn’t make the time to “get off the merry-go-round,” I might blink my eyes and be another ten years down the road. I needed this, for reasons not even I fully understood.
So December came and I packed for my winter beach retreat. I took the haphazard approach. I scooped up a stack of soft T-shirts, sweats, worn-out jeans, and all the saggy socks you can’t ever wear in public. I did it like they do in the movies: in a rush. I packed like that without looking back. I didn’t want to think. I had to just keep moving. Must get to Gulf. Must put feet in sand. Must . . .
The escape commenced. It felt reckless, sloppy, loose, and so much unlike my life as I had come to know it. When I crossed the Alabama line from Tennessee, I forced myself to turn off my cell phone. It was my next act of defiance and bravery. The world would go on without me, and when I rejoined it, I planned to enter more peacefully. How? I wasn’t sure, but I’d give it my best shot.
It was in Florala, Alabama, that “Jimmy Crack Corn” started playing over and over in my head for reasons I don’t ever want to understand. No big deal, I told myself as I turned on the radio in an attempt to drown the song out. I am a successful, well-adjusted woman. I’m just a little tired, I reasoned. I’m still sane—I think.
This is how it all started.