We had a perfect storm brewing in our camper-van, which we affectionately call The Goat. After two full weeks of fairly gentle and rolling experiences in 9 places, things came to a sudden boil. I am relieved to say that lessons were learned, and the best lessons are almost always learned the hard way – with a good old-fashioned quarrel!
I don’t want to spread my dirty laundry all over the road, but let’s just sum it up with some simple facts:
There were some swift exchanges about our plans that day, and then three unexpected deviations from the plan ensued. I will just grant you a little hint here: Who should drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon? How long does one wait for their spouse to return before going rogue? And what are the ramifications for releasing a bathroom door that won’t stay shut on its own?
We had some misunderstandings during our attempts to resolve these events. We both interpreted each other as The Problem. After some eye-rolling, heavy sighs, refusing to hold eye contact, accusations, and outright denials, we drove to our next campsite.
We entered into a passive, slow burn.
Like getting a regrettable tattoo upon one’s throat, we embarked on the ol’ Shut Down (Bob) and Numb Out (Isa) strategy. We melted into a couple hours of morbid silence, the sort of silence that only two stubborn and misunderstood lovers would devote to a proper battle of wills.
Well, that didn’t work out.
We swapped silence for self-righteousness.
We slid into hostility, both verbal and nonverbal. Thinking all the things we imagined were true, even though these ideas opposed everything we usually believed to be true. Our reasonable cerebral cortexes were sound asleep by then. Emotions were spilling out like bubbling lava.
Luckily, it didn’t last long. We are a proud pair, too proud to unleash our inner berserkers for long. Our type of battles tend toward “whoever is the coolest – the most together spouse – wins.” It’s absurd how we will refuse to just feel. I chalk it up to a lifetime of Midwestern culture. We made a kind of halfway progress, but there were still holes in our collective fabric. We mostly gave up and went to sleep.
In the end, and about 12 hours later, we awakened to an isolated lowland forest in a dispersed camp sunrise. Songbirds and squirrels were utterly disinterested in our debacle. Fortunately, we had exhausted ourselves enough to talk in a way that was finally optimal: Speaking calmly, listening with compassion, and most importantly, risking profound vulnerability.
I love it when I am too tired to fight. It really helps me to listen, and to surrender to whatever the truth actually is. Of course, the truth was right there inside of us all along, sitting patiently between our egos. We just forgot to trust in it.
We shared our fears and our sadness, our understandable reasons for being upset, and finally laughed at ourselves then, and recommitted to our partnership. We stayed open to learning what we did not already know.
The next two days have become the best part of the trip. Zion National Park felt sacred, magical, protective, and interesting. Because when you stick around and talk shit out, you get closer. Imagine that!
I guess we can glean this lesson for our collaborative project, a book we hope to create together. The best part of struggling and always expanding is that it keeps us humble and alive. We got to the other side, a battle-scarred team, and we are stronger for it. Isn’t that what we all want?
The following morning, we rose at 5 am. and silently pedaled our mountain bikes through the darkness to the park shuttle, which brought us to The Narrows of Zion. By 7am, we were holding hands, stepping blindly in knee deep river currents over a bed of large stones up the Virgin River canyon. We had transcended all the stupid things wedged between us. I trusted this man to keep me from slipping under.
Two more Friday episodes left. Thanks for joining us!