By Madeline and Michael
On RARE 7, we’re riding with Grindy. Let me explain.
RARE means Radiant Abode Road Experience, a name we devised because our road trips have a magical quality. In Buddhism, the four radiant abodes are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Our RAREs involve good measures of each of those qualities. I can’t remember precise years, but since we met in 2011, we’ve been on six RAREs: to the Sunshine Coast; round trip to Toronto; to Asheville, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival; to Utah and Arizona; down the California coast to see the Redwoods; and to Naramata, BC for a wedding. There have been many mini-RARES, but true RARES must involve substantial driving and a shift into the road-trip ethos. The mood-shift usually happens around the third day. Time takes on another dimension. Long conversations and silences abound. It doesn’t matter what we do, see, eat, or drink—it is all food for breakthrough insights and feelings about life. So far, some of the discoveries on RARE 7: Accept sadness as part of everyday life. While we can’t deny the facts of aging, impermanence, and loss, we can transform our approach to dealing with them. Spontaneity doesn’t thrive on perfectionism. Let it be messy and muddy, sticky, and real. All you need is curiosity and willingness to try something new. Letting go and renunciation are both part of our path.
“Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane.” Pema Chodron
This RARE has an undertone of sadness. In Michael’s words, the space and texture of this RARE is “gentle, luminous, totally real, a little dark, honest, open-hearted.” Sure, we are joyful to be out on the road together, the summery weather, cold lakes, rolling rivers, green mountains wearing tattered scarves of snow. But we are also realistic—as we deal with aging and loss, there’s no pretending we feel great every day. We both struggle, sometimes dipping into dark holes for a time.
To align with our mood, we look for a suitable RARE mascot at a thrift store along the way. The first leg of RARE 7 took us to the Shuswap Lake area, so we stopped at the Salmon Arm Churches Thrift store and bought for $2 a ceramic lemur, one of those little Wade figurines that you used to find in boxes of Red Rose tea. Attracted to his sad expression, we named our little boy Grindrod after a farming town near to where we are staying in Sicamous, BC. “Grind”? Well, think daily grind, grist of living, the put-one-foot-in-front of the other aspects of life. And “rod”? Think resilience, the ramrod yet flexible backbone that holds us up. Short name, Grindy. On the road with Grindy.
There were some pink and frothy early RAREs. Lying on the pavement in downtown Seattle comes to mind, just so I could see the city sky and feel the sidewalk under me—acting kooky, acting playful. Trying to recreate that lightness is nostalgia for a protected, limited world. It’s insane.
On our second night in the lakeside cabin near Sicamous, we moved to the bunkbeds after a restless first night in the too-soft bed for adults. Nestled together in the lower bunk, a double, felt like being teenagers at summer camp. Except that, unlike teenagers, we lay back to back, reading. “There’s an old aunt in this book,” Michael says, “who believes that love isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision. What do you think?” We both do a half turn so we can see each other. “Yes, I agree. But maybe a feeling and a decision. What do you think?” He paused. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it.”
Something is nudging my memory, and ten minutes later, I ask him if he’s reading Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary. “Yes,” he says. “So am I!” I practically shout, overjoyed.
“I thought that thing about love being a decision sounded familiar. I’m almost finished the book.” “And I just started,” Michael said. Both of us had checked the e-book out of the library, without realizing the confluence. I love being married to a man who enjoys good-quality feel-good chick lit. We can compare notes on what the characters think and do. A truly RARE moment.
Perhaps it’s because I just had my 72nd birthday, or perhaps it’s emerging from the pandemic, but I’ve found myself wrestling with the realities of aging. Day to day life, even retired, feels full and heavily scheduled –this is why our road trip is such a welcome change of pace, and as Madeline says, it seems to kick in on the third day. I know that the RARE ethos is activating because a great deal of my usual mental activity is revealed to me as nonsense and begins to drop away.
Day three: let’s go hiking! We look up Sicamous Creek trails, and with a little help from GPS and the Sicamous Visitor Centre, find the trail head. The choices on the map we look at are Easier, Difficult, and More Difficult, and they are accompanied by GPS coordinates. The only trail available from where we are is not the easy one, but we bravely head off.
It’s so beautiful hiking the short distance to the waterfall— ice cold air, water music, and forest fragrance. I love it but find myself wishing the trail wasn’t so narrow, precarious, and steep, and the stairs that make up part of it are giving Madeline pain in her knee. It’s a very short hike, and back at the trail head I realize that my ability to navigate steep trails and uncertain footholds is not what it was. Strangely, I feel totally ok with this. RARE magic is kicking in.
Back at the cottage I search for trails in Sicamous that are easy and find the River Front Nature Park. It’s relatively short, flat, and “family friendly”, so off we go, while I’m thinking “I guess I’m going to have to stick to the codger trails.” What we find is an absolutely magical world in rich browns and ochres, with the trees just budding and spattered with green.
We walk along and talk about expectations and perfectionism—the feeling that we need to make the perfect choice, find the perfect hike, the perfect dinner, the perfect accommodation—and how impossible and corrosive this is. We designed this trip to be spontaneous: unplanned, staying for two or three nights and then moving on to wherever we feel like. Seeking perfection ensures disappointment; curiosity and acceptance allow me to appreciate experiences just as they are. I feel lighthearted for the first time in months, and I realize how much time and energy I spend thinking about how things “should be.”
One of my favourite teachers is Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. He says “Like waves in the ocean, all things are impermanent. I will accept whatever happens and make it my friend.” I have been writing this in my gratitude journal each day for months, but on this RARE I feel like I am finally getting it. I am aging. I have back pains, hearing aids, and my memory isn’t what it was. I am afraid of falling, and I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night worrying about death. I also walk 9000 steps a day and ride my e-bike for 25 kilometers. I am kinder and more contemplative with each passing day, and I am learning to love myself just as I am. Like the landscape flying by our car windows, my thoughts and emotions are fleeting. Nothing hangs around for long, which is deeply comforting. Here is the teaching of RARE 7—when I stop fighting impermanence, it becomes my friend.