Sunday started out in the 80s but behind some heavy rain was a cold front. We packed the car in the sun, drove through the rain and when we got out of the car at our campsite in Ludington it was cloudy and brisk with a steady 20 mph wind.
Despite this, camping felt good. Our site was on the back side of the back dune, where the larger trees and forest start. It was too cold and the water too rough to swim. The red warning flags blew straight east off the lake. I took the kids over the small dunes to the water, my first of four trips to stand in front of Lake Michigan in three days.
Standing in front of that agitated and loud expanse of water brought a pause to my whole being. It took me by surprise, though why I don’t know. The lake has this effect on people, on me, every time. But I guess I hadn’t paused this way, the way the lake forces you to, all summer. While milling about at the shore watching and listening to the waves dark and mighty, thoughts came. Prayer came. I turned over the mental swirl I had packed in my head to the God of the brooding shore.
I spent the days before camping applying for a few technical writing jobs at a local corporation. I submitted resumes and asked an acquaintance to put in a good word. In my head I was practically starting Monday, kissing the cooking and bathroom cleaning goodbye. I was divvying up household duties and arranging after-school babysitters. I’ll do laundry and hire someone for house cleaning. You get everything food related: grocery shopping and making dinner. I’ll be up at six a.m., but that should be OK if I’m in bed by ten…..
I was reaching a crossroads and not convinced I could or should spend all that time at home alone. This is what people do, what most other moms do. They spend their weekdays in workplaces earning a paycheck. Suddenly I’m ready to take the working mom role on in full force. I don’t want to play the martyr who has sacrificed everything for the kids and then waits and waits for them to be grateful for it when that may never happen. I don’t want to be bitter, old and bored.
I don’t want to do work for 30 years that I’m overqualified to do. Because I made the choice to leave the workforce completely for eight years am I now relegated to odd jobs for my remaining work life? I want to use my brain in a way I’ve been trained but haven’t been able to for eight years. I want to use the college education I relished in and worked so hard to pay for and complete. I didn’t spend all those weekend nights babysitting in high school because I wanted to practice being a mom or because I liked kids so much. I was working for the the money and dreaming of a professional future. As the first college graduate in my family line I wanted to achieve, to succeed in a career. Now I want to be an example of how to be a professional woman for my daughters. I am hungry for a chance to be challenged and achieve.
By applying for full-time work I’m asking the work world some questions: Am I relevant despite the obvious child-rearing-related gap in my resume? Am I an asset in spite of walking away from the best job I ever had? Do I still have marketable skills (despite publishing programs aging in dog years)?
By applying for full-time work I’m also asking God some questions: Can I act on this ambition? Can I follow you into the working world? Is this an opportunity or a test?
I stood there looking out over that wet blue mass so full of energy and secrets, gazing at this mystery of glistening blue and all its depths. I let the arches of my bare feet press into the cool late-summer sand, combed my fingers through the rough marram grass. Then I realized that I’m in a space between question and answer and that this pause is OK and even good. I’m in transition. Last time this was the case I was yelling and screaming for drugs and about to push a newborn into the world. I’m glad this transition is more gentle.
The next day I went back to the lakefront. Gulps of migrating cormorants fought the wind in Vs and Ws above my head, flying southbound along the shore. Their tremendous efforts were silent against the roar of waves . Like construction paper cut-outs their tar-black silhouettes seemed flat against dementional, grey-bellied clouds. It didn’t take much to imagine that those clouds swam right out of the lake, like creatures of the deep.
At 2 a.m. the day we arrived at Ludington State Park a crew member jumped to his death from a freighter, the Stewart J. Cort, (which happens to be the Great Lakes’ oldest 1,000-foot freighter) into that choppy dark water. This happened just a mile or two offshore from where we were at the state park. Later I read in the Kalamazoo Gazette that he was a husband and father from Ohio. The coast guard did what they could to search for the body but the conditions on the water were too difficult to search for long.
The next morning we took the 3 mile trail to the Big Sable lighthouse. Although still windy, the sky was cloudless. Monarch butterflies flitted about. Their black and orange wings were composition-perfect against a bluest blue sky. We noticed the milkweed along the gravel path. Many of them hosted monarch caterpillars. With their trademark white, black and yellow stripes they were easy to spot. One was so small it must have just hatched. Others were plumped up from milkweed leaf feasts and ready for a long nap.
Maybe if the man who took his life out on the lake could have seen these monarchs in all their phases he could have had hope with whatever seemed impossible. If he could have only seen the evidence of metamorphasis, of life adapting, changing, growing, moving forward, hatching, taking flight, maybe it would have been enough. What if on that tragic night just one of the butterflies could have been miraclulously nocturnal and flown out–against all odds and gale-force wind–to land on him, on the shoulder of his yellow t-shirt. If only.
All those monarchs–some just trying out their wings for the first time, others mamas looking for just the right milkweed on which to lay her one tiny egg–none of them knows what lies in store. The caterpillar doesn’t know it will fly or even who its mother is. It only knows that it is on something big, green and tasty and happens to be very very hungry.