• Sarah Ratermann Beahan

State of Bewonderment: Ep. 2

Updated: Mar 17

The Unbearable Heaviness of Going


State of Bewonderment is a written and visual exploration into moments of bewonderment. What is bewonderment, you ask? It is the space where awestruckness inspires action, where wonder pivots us and curiosity shifts the world.


My passport expired during the pandemic. Almost a year ago, to the day. The little blue book has been sitting on my desk since, nestled among the important receipts, post-it notes and dental cleaning reminder cards. The receipts and reminder cards come and go, but the passport languishes.



1.


When I was in my early twenties, I was married to my high school sweetheart and living in St. Louis, Missouri, a couple hours from the town where I was raised. I’d gone to college in a first-ring suburb, my then-husband landed a full-time job there, so after I graduated, we stayed.


All the time we were putting down roots, I ached to explore. I plotted cross-country moves to places with mountains or oceans, I applied for pie-in-the-sky internships and fellowships in cities across the country and day-dreamed about getting a job abroad. But we continued to stay. We bought a house, and I got a grown-up job with a nonprofit that numbed my soul. He bought me a Palm Pilot to celebrate my new job. I opened it and saw a symbol of responsibility and adulthood, of a life governed by my calendar. My dreams of adventure faded into the periphery.


I often took Friday afternoons off, got in my car and drove aimlessly. I’d pick a highway and just go—north, south, east, west, it didn’t matter. I’d drive hours, listening to music and staring out the windshield at unfamiliar territory. As I got further away from home, a tiny flame deep in me would ignite as though the breeze through the sunroof was fanning smoldering coals. I could just keep going. And going. And going. The ignition thrilled and terrified me. What was I thinking? I couldn’t leave all my responsibilities, my family, my marriage. I’d list all the reasons why going was out of the question, effectively stomping out the flame. The reasons mostly consisted of what other people would think. With that, I’d turn the car right around and drive home, scolding myself the grass is always greener on the other side of the country, Ratermann.


With each afternoon drive, the flame grew stronger. The drives got longer, my absences more notable. I found myself considering ways to simply disappear—what would happen if I just kept driving? Could I just vanish? How would I live? How would I ensure that I never had to go home? Would I change my name? I contemplated what color I’d dye my hair. Red, probably.


It probably won’t surprise you that my marriage ended a few short years later, I quit my job and let that flame fuel me all the way to Seattle, which is just about as far from St. Louis as you can get in the continental United States. I am not, after all, a hider. Since then, I’ve moved across the country more times than I care to count, spent seven months living on the road while looking for a place to live, and taken every opportunity that presented itself to get out of the country. I met and married my partner, Brian, who unknowingly convinced me to make it official by being fuel to that wandering flame. It was on a trip across the ocean together that I recognized his patience with, even encouragement of my wandering soul.


I like to be in motion. I like to see new things, to push my boundaries. I embrace change. I also love the feeling of being between places. I love to drive, and can log hours in the car without complaint. The process of getting from point A to B is as much part of the fun as the destination. I actually enjoy international flights; they are like a strange portal between worlds, where time is a fluid concept and you have no other option but to simply sit with yourself. Nestled into my window seat with my headphones and my books, I am untouchable.


The furthest I’ve travelled lately is the eight-hours south to my parents’ house. I know the drive so well I could practically do it in my sleep. Central Missouri isn’t exactly an exotic locale, and there is something soothing about returning to a place that I know so intimately, my origins.


When I arrived recently, my dad was lying in his bed, covered tip to tail in blankets. I rubbed his feet.


“I’ve missed you, Dad,” I said.


“I’ve missed you, too.”


That’s new. Not the missing, but the verbalization of it. I like it.



2.


I had to get two sets of passport photos taken. The first set laid around so long that my hair had grown out and changed colors, so another set had to be taken. I’ve filled out the application, written the check, paperclipped everything together to be mailed and placed it on the kitchen counter so I can’t forget.


The pile sits, then gets buried by other paperwork and then migrates back to my study, where the little blue book sits, once again with its trusty companions, the post-its and dental visit reminder cards.


The passport remains un-renewed.


If our patterns and behaviors give us clues to who we are and how we are experiencing the world, my relationship with motion and stasis are particularly illustrative. The desire to live in new places is a direct reflection of my compulsion to put myself in others’ shoes, not to just visit but embody a new perspective. My appreciation of the in between highlights my willingness to fall into chasms that are unseen. On the more dysfunctional end of the spectrum, motion is escape, it’s the drug that mimics freedom when I am feeling trapped. I am a runner in more than one sense of the word.


So, you see, it is markedly unlike me to let that passport sit, not just unused but unusable for a full year. I’m not proud of this, but I’ve been known to flee when things get hard.


So, what is this inertia? I ask myself, is this just procrastination? Why on earth would you procrastinate about something so simple?


I am not a collector of things but experiences. I don’t like clutter, I look forward to spring cleaning because it affords me the opportunity to get rid of anything that hasn’t been earning it’s keep in the previous year. I don’t like trinkets or knick-knacks. I’m told this makes me difficult to buy for.


There is something about those faded stamps in the passport book that tug at my sentimentality. I am wistful, and reluctant to give up this thing that signifies my fleet-footedness over the last eleven years.


Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s my latent sentimentality.


But there’s this other thing I can’t ignore. It’s a new feeling, a sensation of bone-tiredness when I think about travel. The challenges that used to thrill me just seem like chores. More than that, though, going inspires dread.


On a practical level, the pandemic hemmed in all but the least risk-adverse travelers. Because of my father’s health situation—stage IV cancer and multiple complications with his lungs--for my family in particular, even with vaccines and masks, travel has been out of the question. The risk of being out of the country, potentially exposed to Covid-19 or any other virus, and then unable to be with my family if they need me has kept my wings clipped.


I cannot imagine feeling the lightness and freedom that I used to associate with going somewhere new. All the things that used to be so lighthearted and fun (or at least routine) are now riddled with complication: flying, crowded public spaces, eating out, hotels.


It’s anxiety, I told myself. This is what anxiety looks like. The world is upside down and you are a clinical example of how generalized anxiety disorder manifests in a time of crisis; by making you pull in close, stay predictable, do your best to control all the variables.


I am an anxious person, true. But my anxiety doesn’t manifest itself in these ways, not typically. My anxious nature will have me making multiple budgets, checking my baggage six times to make sure I packed my mouthguard and have me in the throes of insomnia for a week ahead of the trip, but it does not show up in hiding.


A runner and a hider are different.


And yet, these last 24 months have been atypical for all of us.


3.


I wonder… what if I choose to examine this from a place of curiosity, like a scientist, evaluating a new phenomenon without judgement or preconception? If I can step back from myself, and widen my view what would I see?


I see something I didn’t expect, actually. I see a woman faced with an unpredictable challenge: a father with a complex medical condition, a global circumstance that has no predictable outcome and a family that is small but committed to their collective wellbeing. I see a true dilemma: two deep desires – the desire to wander and the need to be stationary – that are diametrically opposed for the moment. But I also see a person who has found some peace in the paradox, a willingness to sit in the dis-ease. This is new.


Is this growth?


I’m learning that I am capable of staying put. This is not just a capacity or willingness to stay, but a yearning to be in this one place for as long as I can. I choose to believe that challenges bring out the most real bits of ourselves. Our true nature, deep hidden strengths and shadowy sides are illuminated. We are not just a series of reactions, but emotions and characteristics that form a potion that is unique to us. My unique make-up is the wanderer and the rock, maybe not the runner.


I sat with my dad as he ate the other day. Normally, my dad is incredibly fastidious, but these days he struggles to swallow, making eating a grueling process. He shook his head and said “none of this is very pretty.”


“There is nowhere I’d rather be, Dad,” I replied.



 
These episodes of State of Bewonderment are funded through a Mid-Career Artist Grant from the East Central Regional Arts Council of the State of Minnesota.




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