Our theme for the month of June is “older and wiser.” Writers were asked to write a response to one of their previous pieces. Today, Kipp responds to his November 2023 post, “At Pickerel Lake.”

I went back twice this last weekend. The first time I was by myself, moving through the various stations of my habit with something like a compulsion, a quiet anxiety as I drove down Belding, stopped at the Ago, and parked in nearly that same spot facing the road. Coming here has become something of an intimate treat since I began attending graduate school in St. Louis, and I hadn’t realized how much I longed for it. Maybe that quiet anxiety was really an excitement, whatever it means to be excited for solitude. 

I don’t talk as much as I used to on these walks. It’s the one facet of my habit that’s diminished other than its regularity. I still believe in God, and still find that if I can’t put something into a semi-coherent sentence it nags at me, but I have also grown tired of hearing myself, of nagging back at the nagging but with a kind of project mindset, as if I can solve these things, as if there’s some secret insight that will quell the various forces at work in my being alive. I am learning to make peace with these forces rather than try to conscript them into my personal army for self-improvement—a notion that generally I find more and more misguided. I’d rather be a good person to others than the best version of myself, than reach some kind of “full potential.”

Granted, being good to others begins with how I treat myself. So rather than wandering alone in the woods conjecturing to God about my failures, faults, and hopes for who I become—which there is absolutely a time and place for—today I just let my mind wander, enjoy the overly sweet caffeinated beverage and think about things that are deadly serious and totally banal and simply beautiful and largely trivial. Which means I leave refreshed, rather than deadened by a hazy static of crippling self-awareness I work myself up into in an effort to fix me. I need fixing, I long for it, but I no longer think that we do so by posing our life as a problem to be solved, a goal to be reached rather than something to be attended to with curiosity and patience. Perhaps the work of being whole is less a project building towards an ideal and more a steady process on an ambiguous path to the numerous possible expressions of wholeness, and one day I might get to experience one in a way that feels like I have become it.

The second time I went to Pickerel Lake this weekend, I went with my brothers. It was a shorter walk, and—after several days of near-constant time with each other—filled with the flagging quiets and little awkwardnesses that emerge when your heart is full and not sure how to process more. But in the same way that my solo walk the day before felt representative of several shifts in me and my thinking over the last year, it seemed like something of a development to not be there alone, to not nurse my loneliness into something productive but enjoy the quiet, perhaps strange company of those I love. To be reminded of my solitude, my singularity, but not as an individual on an arc alone. Rather, as one component of a multi-faceted expression of being alive, both in the life I have and the life I share with others. 

I don’t think I’ll ever stop walking Pickerel Lake, at least if I get my way. But whereas I used to think that it would always be a place of reset, aspiration, and—if I’m being honest—loneliness, of walking through the various repetitions that have codified into a personal ritual to try and make something of something that aches, I am beginning to believe now that it represents a more complete picture of the little practices of self-care we all need. Namely, that these practices aren’t solutions but opportunities. I don’t serve them, they’re not prescriptive, but in allowing them to iterate and match what I need I allow myself to iterate and embrace my need not as a painful lack but as a sense of direction toward something increasingly beautiful, mysterious, and surprising. 

So I’ll be back at Pickerel Lake, maybe even this weekend. Maybe I’ll talk, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be alone, or maybe someone will come with me. Maybe I’ll get a little closer to being someone more whole, or maybe I’ll simply hold the line. I think the only thing I can say with certainty is that I’ll have at least two companions: an overly priced, overly caffeinated, mostly cringy beverage and the silence I am coming to experience as an increasingly friendly sense of God.

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