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Coddiwomple

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” (Ursula Le Guin)

Several years ago, I planned a road trip with a good friend to visit her son, my godson, during spring break. We had only four days to drive out to Idaho, visit him and then get back—or at least that’s where I thought we were heading. My Shalem colleagues had many things to say about the possibility or impossibility of such a short trip.

However, as it turned out, we weren’t going to Idaho but to Iowa and also, as it turned out, my godson had come East and went back with us. He was the designated driver for most of the way, gamely playing 60s music, listening to our Swedish mystery on tape and laughing at my story about thinking I was heading to Idaho.

That’s when he taught me a new word, “coddiwomple,” which I loved immediately though I couldn’t quite believe it was real. It means “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” or as my godson said, in slightly different words, to travel purposely but without knowing exactly where you are going.

And coddiwomple seems the perfect word for me now in the beginning days of my retirement. I’m embarking on a new phase of my life—hopefully purposefully but without really knowing precisely where I am going. I do know I need guidance and good companions along the way. And I know I need to be open to the unexpected, on the lookout for mystery, because I learned that at Shalem.

As I’ve already implied, my colleagues gave helpful advice before I set out on my Iowa trip, and I also felt their love and support go with me on the road. The same has been true for heading into retirement. Plan ahead and be prepared, as much as you can, that’s the general advice, but also let yourself be surprised and know you are not alone.

Being on a road trip with my friend and godson helped me be receptive to whatever was invited—from a side trip to the Indiana Dunes to a taste of fried pickles. It also helped me pay attention to what was different and new, which sometimes was as simple as looking up at the starry night sky without city lights hiding the beauty that’s there or experiencing a slice of Iowa life through a local auction one evening. I knew I was in a different place and needed to pay attention to what was there.

But what happens when you aren’t actually travelling anywhere? You are travelling while staying at home, in a way—an internal journeying that still requires guides and accompaniment as well as an openness, a bit of curiosity and lots of trust. You still need to be on the lookout for the unexpected each day as well as alert to holy moments wherever they may occur.

Perhaps in a pandemic there is no other way to travel and nothing expected but the unexpected. I’m aware, though, of the importance of how I see and respond to everything these days, from the vital to the trivial. With the pandemic upending so many lives and plans, looking ahead seems particularly fraught and unknown, yet the invitation as always is to keep walking forward—as awake, alert and receptive as possible.

In the last twelve months, there have been plenty of reminders of the harshness and unjustness around us, but we have also seen many small (and large) acts of love and kindness, miraculous moments of neighbors helping neighbors, of strangers reaching out. I myself have been touched by the online kindnesses I’ve found—from the MVA to the SSA—and have been reminded, too, of the natural beauty around me, seeing it anew, as I cherish my walks or my window view.

In short, these small acts of love and everyday beauty have taken on a huge significance for me right now as I begin this new journey. These holy moments can appear almost anywhere even in times as challenging as these—if I have eyes to see them.

Working at Shalem encouraged a way of being and seeing that I doubt I would have found anywhere else. It also provided a heart connection that I couldn’t have imagined and never expected, and it taught me the value, the necessity, of spiritual community. We most definitely are on this journey together, companions along the way.

Constricted as it is, my retirement journey still offers the possibility of seeing something more in each encounter, in every moment—a hint of holiness waiting to be discovered and shared, and to walk faithfully ahead, trying to keep myself open to all that is.

Though I definitely don’t know exactly where the next part of my journey will take me, I do remember my new word as I travel this path and hope to remain available to the unexpected and mysterious. Truly, it is the journey itself that matters most in the end.

Although Monica now has her vaccinations, she still does most of her journeying on her condo balcony.

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