Opening. It’s a word that often shows up in my thoughts, my journal, in conversation, and even in the news. The 2022 Winter Olympics’ Opening Ceremony received a lot of attention a couple of weeks ago, filled with fanfare, technology, music, flags, military formalities, and cultural traditions.
I carried out my own “opening ceremony” earlier this week when boxes of author copies of my new book, Writer in a Life Vest, arrived on my doorstep. I’ve been through this rite on three previous occasions (at the publication of Hands at Work, BOUNTY, and Hiking Naked). I recalled a dream just days before photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I drove a truck to Seattle to retrieve boxes of Hands at Work shipped from the printer in China. In the depths of my sleep, I saw myself opening one of the boxes and finding someone else’s books inside. Thankfully, that was only a dream (albeit a bad one).
That memory is just one of many reasons my hands shook a bit as I sliced through the strapping tape on one of the cartons this week. I’ve lived with these words for nearly four years, first in journals, then in Word documents (written, re-written, critiqued, revised, edited, copy-edited), next a jpeg of the cover and a PDF of the designed interior, followed by a softbound Advance Reader Copy (scoured once again for errors that slipped through). Homebound Publications made final corrections and sent the files to the printer; this “opening” would be my first look at the absolute final copy. The “Naked Hiker” tapped the phone’s camera as I went through the exciting, yet nerve-wracking, steps.
The book doesn’t go on sale until March 22, but with the supply issues and transportation challenges of recent months, it was a comfort to open these boxes and cradle the finished product in my hands. I can’t wait to share it with readers. You can ask your local bookseller and library to pre-order from their distributors, or you can order online from Homebound. The indie press has expert help to ship orders as soon as the book is released.
Opening is an important part of my Quaker spiritual practice, too. It wasn’t a term I was familiar with until I found Quakerism in my late twenties, but I’d experienced it at various times throughout my life. Many would have called it intuition, luck, or coincidence when an opportunity came knocking or a dream came true. Like the day in my senior year of high school I learned that a nearby nursing program would accept students who hadn’t studied chemistry. I didn’t call it an opening then, but that one piece of information revealed a path to a vocation I hadn’t allowed myself to consider. Eventually, filled with passion and a sense of rightness in this caregiving role, I came to trust that the Divine had been at work to open this option.
In my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I wrestled with the idea of openings—both experiencing them and yearning for them—as I recounted my fear and grief of losing clarity about what I was led to do. My memoir reveals that a path opened for me (along with my family) to retreat to a remote mountain village to step away from my work as a nurse. There, I took a job as a baker, ending each day scraping bits of flour and butter off the bakery floor. Here’s one of my reflections on that task.
“I felt I had been brought to my knees as a nurse, humbled and disappointed and under-valued. Had I left my job without cleaning up the mess of my confusion about nursing, health care, and the public health bureaucracy I was part of? This end-of-shift duty symbolized the internal labor I needed to do. On my knees. In prayer, seeking and opening myself to whatever work I’d be led to.”
Writing Hiking Naked showed me the ongoing nature of watching for and trusting openings. I wrote of my continued seeking, many months into the time of deep discernment.
“I was feeling no more clear about what I was called to do than those first days when I traded in my public health nurse name tag for a baker’s apron. The strength of my trust seemed as fragile as the pine saplings that had started to poke through the soil charred by the previous summer’s fire. That fire had loosened my grip on the desire to control, but my palms, now clasped in prayer, still sweat with fear of the unknown.“
When I travel, I often turn my camera to doorways. I have images of dozens of them from visiting family in Chicago, stays in Mexico, and my first trip to France and England. While the doors in my photos are always closed, I think part of what draws me to them is their potential to open. Opening to what, I don’t know.
Which is where I am now, having completed the journey to write another book. I’m as unclear about what comes next as I was when I left my nursing job. And after I finished my previous book. Many days I struggle mightily to allow myself the quiet and the time to open to inspiration from the Divine. What will be my work to do next? For now, it seems to be releasing the words of my new book to the world with the hope they’ll add to the work of so many others to save the planet.
And staying present to whatever doors open next.