I leaned over the kitchen sink and groaned. It was a bright summer day, but my insides shuddered. I could hardly face the hour before me; the day stretched ahead like unholy punishment. I’d woken encased in fear, as I had for many mornings; my thoughts wild and indistinct, muscles on fire, as if in battle. At night I used sleeping pills, but still woke every hour with an ugly start. It seemed I had been rearranged at the cellular level; it was unknown if there was any return from my current condition. All I could do, the only path, was to find a way to endure. Someone, it seemed to me, had leaned in and taken out my soul.
Now at the sink, I looked around our place. Since I moved in with my wife Jean twelve years before, I’d never really felt at home here. But the truth was, I had never felt at home anywhere. In the first months of finding myself pulled into the underworld, I had journeyed to places I thought would heal me—a beautiful retreat in Los Angeles, or a sanctuary in the redwoods. Finally I had come to see I had no choice: I had to heal where I was, right in our little townhouse. Most mornings I went out for a walk in the neighborhood, an ordinary place of sidewalks, telephone lines, simple little houses. I veered in the streets, swooning with a strange dizziness. Sometimes I found myself weeping uncontrollably in the road.
Hour by long hour, the moments dripped into months without much change. I couldn’t do much, but I did find that I could walk. I followed the same short route, every day, for about twenty minutes. At first it was simply to expel all the broken, nervous energy. But day after day as I walked, I couldn’t help but notice small bits of beauty, the same beauty outside your home: the always-shifting sky, neighborhood trees, song birds and crows.
I wondered if I would dread walking in my neighborhood if I ever recovered, and imagined I might want to move away even more. But it did not turn out that way. To this day, to walk in my neighborhood is to revisit a map to my soul. The roads are filled with the beauty that only dailiness can give, the essence of familiarity, what we see when we see a person or a place every day: how changeable things are, how the sky shifts, how our beloved is troubled one day and feeling well the next, how the terrain of the entire universe, all of life, can be seen in the journey a tree makes throughout the year, growing leaves and losing them, on and again. In dailiness, these things become large, they take on their true significance. All that had once been filling my days, from which I had been brutally wrenched, was brushed aside as if to show me the real world, under a microscope.
Now small golden wrens were joyfully (there was no other word for it) splashing in puddles on the road after a rainy night. When the puddles quieted, morning clouds shimmered in the fresh water. I noticed raindrops settled on roses like languid diamonds. My camera began to come with me, and I leaned down to capture the small and the tiny, things I would never have noticed before: mist on grasses, dried seeds and berries, light on a lemon dangling on a tree.
At the end of it I found that there is a river always moving at the core of life. It fed the creek, it changed the sky, it grew the birds who played in the puddles. It was growing my heart. Things never stop moving. There was nowhere to discover this but in my own home, our little garden, and the roads of my neighborhood. These places were as alive, as fully sacred, as any mountaintop or monastic temple. My ordinary days led me to discover a place in myself that had not and could not be sullied by the past. As I walked and looked and saw, and then returned home again and again, I became someone I had always wanted to be: someone at home.