Circling Back: Revisiting People and Places from the Past

Val blog post 1.4Some of the most fascinating stories spring from revisiting our past, rediscovering the people and places that influenced us when we were young. I am keenly interested in listening to stories from people who have recently traveled back to a special, beloved place that has reawakened and heartened their spirits. For  my column, Circling Back, I’m looking forward to hearing the wondrous adventures of people who took precious time out to return to important parts of their lives, even decades later.  What did you learn? Were there surprises and changes you had no idea would appear?  What were the resolutions or lessons of your visit?  These are the meaningful messages I would love to learn and to share with readers.

I aim to interview people about their circling back stories. Sometimes I will present their experiences as a Q&A, and other times, it might be conveyed as a story or article. One thing for sure, they are all true and heartfelt accounts of taking brave journeys, sometimes amid great uncertainty and fear, and finding how revisiting people or places in person on can heal our lives. When we travel back to see a person or a place, we step into a realm of possibilities that didn’t even exist in our first two or three decades of life. Stepping back to the landmarks of our lives that call us for closure or rediscovery, we willingly open our hearts and minds to learning and growing, a courageous and beautiful human experience. Hopefully those of us who have made the effort to travel back on a personal quest to a reunion, or to beloved place, or a resolution of a mystery, or simply an adventure in rediscovery, have all enjoyed worthwhile and valuable experiences. And even for those who embarked on a less enjoyable adventure, I hope at least, wisdom and insight were gained.

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For starters, I’d like to share my circling back story about going to Maine every spring. I moved to Boston recently after 13 years of working, writing and hiking in Maine as a nature-loving, quiet, mystic of sorts. For all those years, following my passion for great blue herons, I wandered to their watery sanctuaries in marshy, mossy coves where I disappeared behind birch trees, enthralled, sitting on rocks, reflecting on their heron ways.  Amazed at their patience, their stillness, their waiting, their elegance, never chasing anything, just watching until the perfect opportunity arose, I learned from herons the fine art of timing. They darted for their catch so effortlessly.  I lost myself in the world of herons, egrets, ospreys, ducks, geese, and ocean waves, until the spray of a rogue wave splashed me out of my trance, calling me back to the present moment.

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Every May, once the herons and ospreys have returned to Maine, I drive northwards to witness their arrival. I marvel at the long migrations these birds have endured, and how they land at exactly the same tree or rock after thousands of miles of travel. Everyone has a landing place, a nest, a community.

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And after my long ocean hikes, filled with the joy of witnessing my beloved birds returning to their northern homes, I meet up with my human friends, returning to our annual gathering at a favorite spot called Gritties Pub in Freeport. We indulge in fried haddock and chips, lobster rolls, sweet potato fries, or cheese-smothered chili, along with delightful golden beer. We catch up with a year’s worth of stories of perseverance, mostly concerning money, hardship, and our righteous accomplishments. We talk late into the night, even after leaving Gritties, landing at a table in a friend’s kitchen eating re-heated leftovers, gleaning from our stories our discoveries, victories, and takeaways. It feels so good to be a regular returning visitor, all ears, all ready to learn and engage in a year’s worth of each other’s struggles, to help make sense out of our lives. Friendship just doesn’t get any better than this.

I’m so happy that I can live and work in Boston, and go to Maine seasonally for my circling back adventures. As much as I’d love to afford to go to foreign places, just the two or three hours driving north makes a world of difference in how I look at life.

Still, I dream of the day I return to Denmark to see my dear friend Claus from my first magical visit to Copenhagen at age 19, or back to Scotland to see my old friend and roommate Morna from my two years working in Edinburgh at age 21-22. The return visits with them are on my bucket list. I am so hopeful.

valVal Walker, MS, is the author of The Art of Comforting:  What to Say and Do for People in Distress(Penguin, 2010), and a Nautilus Book Award Gold Medalist in 2011. The Art of Comforting was listed as recommended reading by the Boston Public Health Commission’s Guide for Survivors of the Marathon Bombing. Val’s articles have appeared in Whole Living Magazine, AARP Bulletin, Coping with Cancer Magazine, and other national publications. Formerly a rehabilitation counselor, she now works as an activities specialist leading groups for seniors with Alzheimer’s, and other groups with disabilities. To learn more about Val you can visit her website, The Art of Comforting.