....I was guest-teaching at Landmark’s Vermont campus, and Robert (a New England native) became my enthusiastic tour guide. My husband flew in to join in the fun. Our time together was short, but filled with joy. From string quartets under the stars at Applehill, to driving through thunderstorms in New Hampshire, to hilarious lunches in the campus cafeteria, Robert had a way of making everything feel like the best
days of summer camp. Throughout the summer, there was
one song which seemed to be perpetually playing in the
background. In the grocery store, on the car radio, in the
student union, the cafeteria… the song followed us from
one corner of New England to the other. Despite its
ubiquitousness, I was unable to discover the artist or the
title of the song. Nevertheless, the song remained in my
mind, deeply interwoven with my memories of Robert.
Upon my return to Oregon, I vowed to track down this
song and buy the album to which it belonged. I waited to
hear it on the radio, or in the grocery store, or in the
student union… but it was nowhere to be found on the
West coast. I told myself, “just wait. It will come back to you.”
Nine months later: I awoke from a dream in which I was sprinting down a grassy mountainside toward the ocean. Robert stood on a rocky precipice in the distance. He joyously jumped up and down, waving and yelling “Goodbye, Manda!! Goodbye!! Goodbye!!” And I just kept on running toward the ocean. A phone call later that afternoon confirmed that my beloved mentor had died unexpectedly.
The following summer, my husband and I were driving across the country on a road trip that Robert would have loved. We were crossing through the Great Basin when a bout of altitude sickness led me to ask the universe for some help: “Universe, I don’t want to be sick in this beautiful place. We need Robert. Please. He would lift my spirits… He would want to be here exploring with us… I want to feel connected to him, please.” About 30 miles down the road, I was searching through our CD collection, frowning at that fact that we had already listened to everything at least 10 times on this trip, when I found a mixed CD made for me by a student from the previous school year. With a sharpie, the student had written only the word “Songs” on the face of the CD. In the stress of grading term papers, I had never gotten around to listening to it. “Let’s give this a try,” I said. To my astonishment, the seventh song on this mixed CD was the very song I was waiting to hear. Robert’s song!!! As the golden afternoon sun illuminated the geologic wonders of the ancient sea bed, we rolled the windows down, turned up the music, and basked in the giddy joy of this great adventure. Robert was with us.
A month later, upon our return home, I flipped through the CD collection only to find the CD titled “Songs” was missing. I still knew neither the title nor the artist. After a couple hours of searching, I eased my frustration and disappointment with the thought, “have faith, it will find its way back to you.”
Three Years Later. I sat on the floor of our bedroom, surrounded by boxes. It was the night before we were to move to our new home. Our move was prompted by a family member’s medical emergency, and I was about to become a caregiver under very stressful circumstances. And while the situation was far from ideal, it also gave my husband and I the chance to fulfill our dream of finding a piece of land, and creating a new life for ourselves in the forest. My heart and mind were overwhelmed with feelings of dread and excitement, inspiration and self-doubt. As I sorted through piles and stuffed belongings into boxes, I found myself talking to Robert. I wanted his spirit to know we were moving, just in case he ever wished to stop by for a visit. I told him about our difficult situation. I told him about my mixed emotions. I told him about the creek that runs through the forest, and the pond filled with tiny fish, the thick green moss covering the rocks, the giant oak trees and the colonies of well-fed squirrels. And as I spoke, I happened upon a box that contained a collection of items from our road trip three years prior. My heart raced as I once again held “Songs” in my hand. My husband heard the music from the other side of the house and he wandered into the bedroom. He found me with happy tears streaming down my face, sitting in the middle of an ocean of boxes. “You know,” he said, “I have this app on my phone that identifies songs. You just play the song and it will tell you the title and artist.” Within moments we had our long awaited answer. The artist was Radical Face. The title of the song was “Welcome Home.”
I laughed until I cried. Then I cried until I laughed again. The magic of the moment flowed over me in sparkling waves. I played the song on repeat for the next few hours while packing, sorting, crying, and laughing. I had no doubt that the next few years would be difficult. But now, as Robert’s song filled the room, I was equally confident that these years would be filled with beauty and adventure.