How did you get through it? I was asked. The six of us were sipping coffee around a long redwood dining table in the living room of the Inn at Newport Ranch. We had just finished a steak dinner. It was intimate. Quiet. Dim. A fire was crackling in the 20-foot stone fireplace behind us. The sun was setting out of the picture windows. The sky a gradation of color from blue to red.
The Apostle Paul advised the Thessalonians’ to encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. I paused, unsure how to respond. I wished I had a detailed blueprint to lay out before them. But life doesn’t work that way.
We left on our annual family trip a few days prior. My father had seen an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times about this new luxury inn called, The Inn at Newport Ranch. The Inn is situated on a 2,000-acre coastal cattle ranch in Fort Bragg, California. It’s in Northern California. Like, way, way north – six-hundred-miles north from where we live in Southern California. After checking it out online and seeing how pleasant the ambiance is, my father offered it as the destination for our trip. He also proposed we drive there. We hesitantly agreed.
We picked my older brother up in Fresno and continued up the 99. We cut across the Valley to the 580, drove over the Richmond Bridge in San Francisco, connected with the 101, and then turned on the 128.
We came upon this enchanting valley, the Anderson Valley, on a two-lane, dark asphalt road with a super bright yellow line down the center. All around us the hills rolled, golden grass carpeted the ground, and mighty oak trees peppered the landscape. Soon wineries appeared out of nowhere, and we pulled off at Navarro Vineyards. With big smiles on our faces, we took photos, sampled and bought wine.
Back in the car we weaved our way further down the black road and entered a glorious redwood forest. Our senses were on immediate alert. I cracked the window and took in a musty yet clean smell; I could taste the dampness of the fog in my mouth. All around stood the tallest trees on Earth. Dark green moss was creeping up their trunks. Massive branches were arching overhead.
We turned onto Highway 1 and traveled along the North Coast, admiring the ocean view and forest paralleling the road. When we reached Fort Bragg, an old logging town, we found our home for the days ahead, The Inn at Newport Ranch.
“Dinner will be served in about an hour-and-a-half,” we were told as we checked in. The hour-and-a-half gave us time to unpack, rest, and change.
Meals are eaten communally at the Inn at Newport Ranch. At dinner that night we ate homemade Mexican food in the dining room while making conversation the other guests. Two families were staying there besides us. I gravitated towards a husband and wife from Huntington Beach because I live near there. The wife and I bonded over the fact that we graduated from the same college. It felt strange to be so far away, yet so close.
“What did you guys do today?” I asked the husband. He was wearing a bright red Nebraska sweatshirt, short shorts, and hiking boots with socks sticking out. “Did you happen to go to Glass Beach?”
Glass Beach was what had me most excited about the trip. I had seen the most amazing images online researching the area before we left.
“We did actually,” he responded. “But there wasn’t much to see. The sea glass has largely been taken by tourists for souvenirs or washed away by the sea.”
After dinner, we watched the sunset and then gazed up at the multitude of stars. Every constellation in our galaxy seemed visible: The Northern Cross, the Big and Little Dipper, Orion, the Milky Way. I felt as small as a grain of sand.
After everyone was asleep, I read my book until I could read no longer. Feeling restless, I set it down on the living room table and stepped outside. Alone in the darkness, I gazed back up at the stars and prayed.
The next day we did some light hiking before heading back to The Inn at Newport Ranch. Then we climbed in an ATV and rode around the property.
“Are you ready to see something special?” our guide asked. I couldn’t imagine anything better than what we were already experiencing.
We started up the mountain. First, we reached a cemetery where old loggers were buried and paid our respects. Then we continued up the steep grade until we reached the peak. We walked through tall grass to the mountains edge. The Lost Coast was to the north. From there we looped down into a coastal redwood forest and ate lunch in a grassy meadow. Upon our return, my spirit felt lighter in some way. The mighty redwoods had inspired me.
It was just the couple from Huntington Beach and us that night at dinner. While drinking coffee after a tasty meal, we got to talking. The intimate setting made us feel closer than we were. Somehow my having had a kidney transplant and other chronic health issues got brought up.
Then they shared their secrets. They told us about their teenage daughter. We discussed, in intimate detail, her health problems, and how worried they were for her. They weren’t sure what was going to happen and feared the worst. They looked helpless, desperate, shattered by the harshness of the situation. I’ve seen that same look so many times in my parent’s eyes.
We entered the darkness with them, knowing that our mere presence could be a healing device. I wanted to be present, to not retreat in the awkwardness of the conversation. I wanted them to feel seen and heard, to feel validated, to know that they were not alone. What they were feeling was okay. I wanted them to know that.
Their brokenness was laid bare. They spoke about their daughter’s doctors not being able to figure out what’s wrong with her. How difficult it is to navigate medical insurance. How painful it is to see their daughter suffer. How lost they feel when she pushes them away because they don’t understand.
How did you get through it? they asked. I was a bit taken aback, at a loss for words. I knew I couldn’t provide what they were looking for. I have suffered enough to know that there are no silver bullets. Pain is something you endure, for better or worse. And they were in the thick of it. I knew there was nothing I was going to say that would tape them back together. And even if there were, the scars would remain.
After a pause, I offered that they might try to focus on their response to the situation as much or more than the situation itself. I told them that a strong sense of faith and a good support system would take them a long way. Finally, I suggested that if their daughter is unable to speak to them that she may find solace in books, as I do.
When the word books left my mouth, the father snapped to attention. A light turned on in his eyes. It scared me. The idea wasn’t something he had thought to try before. We discussed a few titles, and then he hit the internet using his phone.
During the rest of the trip and on the drive home I thought more and more about the conversation. It felt strange that we had been brought together in such a way. Mysterious. I hoped that I was of some help or comfort, living proof that light lay ahead.