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True North in Tucson - 05/05/2020

When a person begins a journey, it is important to know how to find their "true north." On a compass, true north refers to the direction along the Earth's surface that points to the North Pole. In life, finding your true north means discovering your destiny, or what you should be doing with your life. Many people spend their whole lives searching for their true north. Others are lucky enough to know from childhood what their destiny is. And others, like me, have journeyed all over the map before finally figuring it out.

I have always loved living in high places. Even when I was a little girl, I had a room on the second floor that looked out over our yard and the street, so I could watch neighbors and dogs during my frequent sick days. I learned early that like an eagle, I needed my "aerie," my high place where I could escape from the world. I was shy and sickly, and I felt safe in my corner room with double windows. As I grew older and moved out on my own, I discovered that I was happiest in high places. The only times I ever lived in ground floor apartments were some of the unhappiest of my life until I moved to New Jersey in 1993. And there I found my ultimate aerie - my apartment that looked out over the Atlantic Ocean.

I think I loved living on the ocean because I had a feeling of freedom, of boundlessness as I looked out my windows on the sea. I loved watching the sunrise, listening to the waves, and seeing the seabirds fly past. I would have stayed there forever, too, except that I fell in love with a computer nerd who wanted to go West, to California, where the Internet gold rush was taking place. Did he stay with me forever, as I'd hoped? And did he wrong me after I got chronically ill and had to give up my career? He did not, and yes, he did me wrong, but only after a 17-year run that exceeded my wildest expectations for romance.

We bought a house in California. It was only one story, but it looked out over the San Francisco Bay with floor to ceiling windows. I could watch the birds and the glorious West Coast sunsets. But no one had warned me about the rain and the cold wind, and as time went on, it became the house that I got sick in. I was in pain all the time until I finally left and moved south to warmer climates - first Los Angeles, then Tucson. I found my aeries in both of them - apartments in leafy neighborhoods with views that uplifted me and kept me off the ground. But if you can't fly like an eagle, sometimes your body wears out from climbing the stairs. Ultimately, I had to give up on my high places. A year ago I moved into a ground floor apartment in Tucson.

Someone I loved once told me that he couldn't sleep in his basement apartment in a Manhattan high-rise. Something about all those people overhead kept him awake. I understand his feelings, but I haven't found that to be the case where I live now. Although the nice lady that lives above me does have a rather heavy walk, and she vacuums at 6 a.m. even on weekends, I don't think about her being overhead most of the time. I like my cozy little cave where I live with Clara, my pug. It's small, but just big enough for all my treasures from my explorations all over the world. I feel, well, grounded, I guess. But not in the sense of being unable to go anywhere so much as being happy and comfortable where I am. There are still birds, and a view (with palm trees!), and beautiful Arizona sunsets. But here there is a big, solid mountain that says good morning every day, instead of the vast and ever-changing ocean. And something about the permanence of that mountain has made it easier for me to feel like this is safe, and solid, and home.

Which brings me back to my true north. I have moved a lot in my life, from my childhood home of Huntsville, Alabama, to Birmingham, to Nashville, and then to the northeast, about an hour from Manhattan, before I headed West. I moved to Birmingham and to Nashville and to California with men that I thought were my true north. Each time I was wrong. What I didn't realize until I was alone in Tucson is that no person can be someone else's true north. You must find your destiny alone. I have enjoyed my careers, in business, and in acting and here in Tucson, as a teacher and caregiver. But I think I'm finally learning that my destiny is just to be kind, and to give love, no matter what I do for a living.

Since we have been under a stay-at-home order for going on two months now for COVID-19, I have learned up close what it means to love my neighbor. Kindness has become my first priority. I take care of myself, and my little dog, and I look after my friends and neighbors who need it. And somehow that has become my true north. I'm grounded now, and I don't think I'll spend the rest of my life searching for my destiny. I am living it, on the ground floor in Tucson.

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