Gratitude without a Car

It’s another rainy day in the mountains. The dog and I are enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Who wants to travel outside on such days? Even Birdie isn’t fond of car rides on rainy days. Other than playing Van Morrison’s new album out loud, the day is not much different than any other day. It’s the life of living alone in a quiet place and living without a car.

 

One of my goals in life has been to move from a gasoline engine vehicle to being able to travel by cycle. In truth, it was an environmental goal instead of a financial one. Health challenges began to pile up this year and that meant more and more medical bills since Medicare and Medicaid were cut. In August, the worst time of the year for my asthma, it finally came down to deciding if I wanted to pay a car payment or pay for the medicine that helped prevent and manage my asthma.

 

Before making such a decision (which seemed inevitable since the divorce), there was a lot of time spent on research about how to get to doctors, church, and get groceries. Because of Watauga County’s AppalCart, I am able to get to appointments with planning. Some friends who go to Holy Cross have graciously offered rides to church.

 

I’ve also been blessed with wonderful neighbors who have helped me if I needed to call Fred’s for a missing item in a recipe. You know how it is when you cook, you’re in the midst of stirring ingredients and checking to make sure you added each item. Then, there’s often one important item that is out or not quite enough.

 

One of the other things I considered before letting go of the car was looking at alternative and environmentally conservative means of alternative transportation. Once it became clear that this was doable, I even questioned if I needed any transportation at all. With today’s online shopping options, I can get most of what I need by mail. However, one of the joys of living here is a ride up to Fred’s General Mercantile or a trip down to Buckeye Recreation Center for yoga or a walk on its paths.

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

Growing up, biking was my favorite means of transportation. Even after getting my driver’s license at sixteen, I still loved cycling. Then, it was a dream of mine to cycle cross-country. This was before learning the limitations that my asthma put on me. Even though I was hit by a car when I was in college, cycling was always a goal. There was a freedom and peace is cycling through the countryside. Mountain bikes weren’t popular during this time or I would have had one of those too.

 

When I moved up to the mountains, I had given up my last bike. Not because I wanted to but because it was too heavy for travel on the landscape. By then, my hands had begun to have problems with grasping and lifting heavy hymnals. There was no way I was going to be able to manage such a heavy bike. The bike itself wasn’t much of a loss because it was an inexpensive model bought only to see if I liked how the mountain bike rode.

 

Though I looked for a bike while living in Sylva (they have a great bike shop there), another health problem prevented my return to riding. Like many women my age, vertigo has become the bane of my existence. Though the doctor helped me get it to the point where I could walk without the world swirling (faster than usual), it would not be safe for me to ride a bike. I watched the cyclists in the town with appreciation and a sense of resignation. Still, I missed riding and wanted to find a way to return.

 

One day I mentioned how much I missed cycling on Facebook and my writing teacher from undergrad, Heather Ross Miller, suggested a trike like hers. I started looking at them and then because they wouldn’t fit in the Fiat 500 Pop I was driving, I gave up on them. That is until it became clear I would have to give up my car. It wasn’t that I just couldn’t afford THAT car and pay my medical bills, it was clear I couldn’t afford any car. In December I will finally catch up all my medical bills so that I can start the new year free of old medical bills.

The Joy Trike

Giving up my car has also freed me to consider saving for a trike. I could see that possibility before giving it up. After a lot of research and talking to my cycling friends and Charlotte Cycle’s Brian Doolittle, it became clear that I would be able to find and eventually afford an electric trike. Brian has been great to answer all of my questions and also answer questions my friends bring to me when I told them of my decision. It made it easier to tell my family, friends, and church members of my decision.

 

Though I hadn’t gone into the details of my old environmentalist dreams of cycling, I had at least told those who I wished to visit that it might not be a possibility now. It’s amazing how beautiful people have been. People have talked to me about other options. A woman from church offered to give me an old car that needs work. A friend from Charlotte talked to her pastoral committee and ended up gifting me with some funds to pay off most of my medical bills. No one asked anything of me. They merely loved me and didn’t want me to be isolated from others.

 

To say I am humbled does not fully explain. A few years ago, when trying to encourage people to participate in global and local concern for others, I told a spiritual friend that I hadn’t lost faith in G-d. At the time, however, I was losing faith in people to make compassionate and justice-oriented choices. Selfishness seemed more rampant than ever. Then, about the time it seemed our world was turning to more openness to diversity and the need for conservation of natural resources, the current administration took over. Hatred became the norm instead of talk of justice and acceptance of all. This was all before my divorce.

 

Without going through that all, one would think the divorce made me want to give up on humanity totally. In truth, it did cross my mind except one thing continued to happen – people who loved me kept reaching out and reminding me of who they were and the good they bring to the world. By their lovingkindness, strength to go on came into my soul. Then I found Holy Cross Episcopal and joined their choir and a prayer group called Daughters of the King. These people too shared love, kindness, prayers, and often a listening ear. I could go on about the beautiful people restoring my faith in the goodness of humanity.

In short, because of the love my church, friends, and family, great healing comes to me. It’s been interesting too to find that things I thought were healed or forgiven from the past were healed on another level. My faith was already being restored in the goodness of these humans merely by them being themselves and sharing their own blessings and challenges in life. That made the presence of G-d even more powerful.

 

In addition, living here, close to the woods as I do has been a lifelong need. Though I lived near hiking paths and woods, most of the walking paths near my home were paved. Issues with arthritis and other challenges make it impossible to get out on paved or concrete paths. Here, there’s a dirt road that would take me to the top of the mountain if I could walk that far. The walking on a dirt road can still be challenging but it has helped my mental and physical health tremendously. My condo is like a treehouse and living in solitude the life of a semi-hermit is enlarging my heart.

Birdie, my dog, loves it here too.

As we approach Thanksgiving, gratitude is the word that stands out for me. Gratefulness for what IS (not what could be) has changed my life drastically. The last time I had a conversation with my ex-wife she even said that she missed my gratitude. A practice of gratitude was started for me in a new way when I was a Vicar in Tallahassee, Florida. I had been assigned to a small wonder-filled church called St. Stephen’s Lutheran for my internship.

 

Though naturally a thankful person, practicing gratitude then was part of a stewardship program we were required to do for a project. Because most of us argued that it was a flimsy attempt at fund-raising (we were the first class required to focus only on stewardship), the way I decided to outline my project was to focus on writing about the gifts we already had. What did it mean to use our time, talents, and treasure without coming across as one of the televangelists we love to hate? For me, that meant to focus on gratitude for what we DO have?

 

In other words, though I am a musician I’m not famous and rich. What does it mean to give thanks for how this gift of music has totally enriched my life rather than focus on the lack of remuneration prevalent for musicians? Once I began to be thankful for what I did have, it became clearer how wealthy I was. Forbes wasn’t going to come knocking on my door, but I had enough. Not only did I have enough, but when I recognized that I had enough, there always seemed to be a way to share.

 

Though I lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the time (and not the house I had bought), I had a roof over my head when it rained. There was air-conditioning when it was suffocatingly hot. There was clean water and I always had the food I needed as well as a warm bed to rest. When the person I was dating at the time broke up with me depression tried to get its hooks in me. Yet, because I had been practicing gratitude, each time I feared or hurt, I gave thanks for the things that I did have. The love I DID have from the wonderful people at St. Stephen’s saved me in many ways.

 

Through the years, I’ve tried to tell them in various ways. What vehicle is ever larger enough to contain love though? Especially when it is a love grown, shared, give in a community of faith – is there ever a way besides song and presence? When I lost my pastorate because I came out, St. Stephen’s was there. Throughout the years when I was faced with challenges that had to do with justice, there was always the thought about what Pastor Emory would do. What would the members of St. Stephen do to act in love and forgiving compassion to those who were caught up in the cycle of injustice? These people changed my life and made my life and my life’s path a more sacred experience.

Because the gift the continue to BE in my life, when my friend there asked about setting up a GoFundMe account in order to help raise money for my trike, I told them there was no need. After getting my medical bills caught up, any extra money would go to the purchase of a Joy Trike from Carolina Cycle. I was quite excited about the cycle and that it was now an option. It will even have a basket so that Birdie can ride with me. She has missed the car much more than I do, that’s for sure.

A few weeks later, while checking Facebook, I noticed that one of the members of my vicar committee had posted a GoFundMe request there. Of course, it was a request to go fund our old vicar. They still thought of me as their vicar. Gosh, that alone is priceless to me. Then, I saw that people I don’t even know have donated to the fund. Then, one of my professors from seminary posted it.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Gratitude. What does it mean? It means, of course, to be thankful. Thankfulness is also an act as well as a state of mind or feeling. To be thankful is to be willing in such situations to set aside pride and simply say thank you. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my later years is how prideful I’ve always been. Once, I let that pride hurt a man in a church I was serving. He kept giving me gifts. Sadly, instead of continuing to thank him for his generosity, I said something to the effect that he didn’t have to buy me gifts for me to love him. Immediately clear that it was hurtful to him though it wasn’t my intention. My pride and lack of gratitude became throwing his gifts back in his lap. I might as well have said, thanks but no thanks.

 

Who knows if this GoFundMe thing will be completed? In truth, I don’t care if it is or not the gratitude in my heart exhorts me to write of this congregation’s great love and generosity. This is not the only way they are generous. They have always given to each other, their vicars, priest, and community. They have from the day I met them been the best example of what it means to be a people of G-d in the modern world. They are willing to stand up for those who are poor, LGBTQIA, of a different race or nationality…and the list goes on and on. Love abounds.

When I am so loved, all that I can do is give thanks and then love in return. No matter the outcome, this great act of love encourages me to love more and to trust more. Their long-time support reminds me of all the things I know about my friends in faith who have supported others quietly. They don’t let their left hand know or others know of their generosity. I do, however. I see the good they do in the world and I want to be just like them.

When I first tried dealing with the loss of my pastorate, I remember asking my priest in Oklahoma about the power of love. I told her that I thought love was supposed to conquer all. She understood where I was coming from as I spoke of love, loss, and the grief of finding a new way. Her answer was that in her experience, love DID conquer all. Wise priest that she was, she offered me no platitudes. Today as Van Morrison sings of love conquering all, all I can think is that it does. Though we may not know how or when, love wins. I am thankful to be loved.

 

 

 

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