The Meaning of Life

I parked my van at my friend Jooim's house in Portland, Oregon last December to fly home to Ohio for the holidays. I was struggling with a season of depression and mental health crises, and my nervous system needed a reset. It seemed the universe must have known. My intended three-week stay grew to nearly five after three weather-related flight cancellations. Everything works out for us.

Jooim and I had only met once on a 2-night backpacking trip in the enchantments the Summer before. Strangers to soulmates, I'd say. Not only did that ray of sunshine (and her incredibly kind roommates!) allow me to take up space in their driveway (for so long), but she made homemade Korean and gifted me with delicious rose+tulsi tea and other goodies for the road. "It's the Korean thing to do," Jooim said, rationalizing her gift-giving. Oh, my heart. 

Upon my return to Portland, and after a replenishing extended stay in Ohio, I shared with Jooim that I wanted to get back into knitting––a craft I learned from my grandmother when I was young. The next day, we ventured out into the icy remains of the recent winter storm and found everyone-and-their-mother at the local knitting shop. I guess I wasn't the only one called to a cozy craft. Jooim helped me pick out a lavender yarn made of merino wool, and we cuddle-walked back to the car through the cold.

Nearly-finished knit hat in the van after the open mic

One week later, I attended an open mic night at The Commons café in Bend, Oregon. I don't play music, so I brought my knitting to work on my new hat while I listened. I got to the café a little late, and the music had already begun, so I was limited to standing room only. Though I was getting more familiar with the "knit through-the-back-loop, pearl" pattern, I wasn't confident my yarn ball wouldn't go rolling through the crowd if I attempted to knit standing up.

I noticed a couple sitting together on a couch with just enough room for one more butt (my butt) to squeeze in. As the musician on the mic transitioned between songs, I whispered, "Is it okay if I join you?," pointing to the space beside them. Their eyes lit up as if they had been expecting me. 

I got to chat with the couple, who's names I learned to be Hana and Nick, between performances. They had just arrived to town after car-camping in their Suburu along a cross-country drive from Wisconsin. Hana got an equine internship that brought them to Bend, and the two adventured together to a place they had never before seen.

There's a certain bittersweetness that comes with making new friends while living on the road. I can't quite put it into words. The road brings us together, and I like to believe it's for a reason. We just never know how long or how often, so it makes every meeting feel extra special, even the first one. 

Hana and I exchanged numbers and later made plans to attend an upcoming ecstatic dance night. (If you haven't attended an ecstatic dance event, please do yourself a favor and go. It is important!). We met among a sea of swirling strangers all moving in our own ways; separately, together. I can't even express the heart-opening relief this evening brought us. Afterwards, Hana and I gave each other a big, thrifted-purple-puffy coat hug and said our goodbyes.

"Until the road brings us together again..."

I left Bend the next day feeling incredibly grateful and soaring high from the dance party send-off. I planned to drive to Yachats, Oregon for some time on the coast, but not without a stop in Sisters first. I bought my mom socks for Christmas from a small alpaca shop in Sisters, but accidentally snagged the wrong size and needed to make an exchange. I love that town so dang much that I'll take any excuse to visit. Upon arriving at the shop, I found it was closed due to winter hours, and I wouldn't be able to get in until 11am the next day.

I immediately felt guided. 

I decided to stay another night in Central Oregon so I could make the exchange. Because, why not. I didn't have anywhere I needed to be. Somehow, I found my way back to Bend (only thirty minutes away) that evening for dinner. That town always brings me back––I call it a mutual attachment issue. :)

The next day, I enjoyed a slow morning with Remi while waiting for the shop to open. I journaled, yet again, about my gratitude for Central Oregon and did a second round of goodbyes to the birds and the junipers. By the time 11am came, I felt so slow and grounded that I no longer felt any need to complete my quest to the coast. I made the sock exchange, and found my way to a sunny café instead. 

sunny journal session in sisters, oregon

Alive by the sunshine on my skin, I sat in silence soaking it all in. That's when I received a text from Hana. The length of her text was immediately alarming–I later reflected on the sweet romance of getting to know someone by the way they communicate. Quickly scanning her words, I found the line, "Nick got a call this morning, his mom passed away very unexpectedly." The details baked around this line didn't matter, I knew they needed help. After a semi-blind committed response, I re-read her message to better understand the ask at hand. They needed a ride from Sun River to the Redmond airport (a fifty-minute drive) at 3am the next day. Easy. The message was full of "please feel free to say no"'s. Sweet of them to think I could.

I made plans to park at their house to make the middle-of-the-night departure easier, and Hana invited me to join them for dinner––homemade goat cheese and mushroom ravioli. Just as I copied their address into Google Maps, a call came in from Hana. "So... we have a predicament," her voice surprisingly cheerful after all that the day had brought them. She shared that they had no water in the house due to a recent ongoing plumbing issue. "I'll pick up a few jugs on my way," I quickly offered. Luckily we are all used to doing dishes with limited resources. 

 cozy candlelit dinner setting

I arrived in Sun River to find Hana and Nick surrounded by beeswax candles and cozied up by a wood-burning fire. I didn't know what to expect as the two grieved Nick's mother's death, and I didn't want to get in the way of what they needed. Half a bottle of wine on the table, Sylvan Esso playing from Hana's phone, and a prepped ravioli dough on the counter––it was all so soft and serene.

homemade ravioli spread across the countertop

The four gallons of water I bought quickly vanished to our own hydration and dish doing, so we had to get a little crafty. Luckily, we had plenty of snow outside. We took turns filling a large pot and set it atop the fireplace to "make water" for post-dinner dishes. It felt like such a welcomed distraction, or, compliment, to the emotion in the room. 

snow-filled pot melting by the fire

We spent the evening getting to know each other more. Nick shared stories of his mom's life and her love of her job as a nurse. "She had such a good heart," he said lovingly, though heavy-hearted. Time passed quickly as Hana and I sunk deep into spiritual conversations and wonderings about life and former lovers. "Hope you get a little sleep," we said with encouragement, finally sneaking off to bed at 11:30pm, 3am alarms in place. 

We drove the fifty-minute drive in the dark among a light snowfall. Conversations about music interests and laughter about Hana and Nick's "Yar" vocabulary served as fuel. We finally reached the Redmond airport and I put the van into park. Neither Hana nor Nick made any quick movements to jump out, likely pausing a moment to take in the wildness of the last 24-hours before their next embarkment. I like to think it was to soak in the stillness of each others presence just a moment more. 

After another round of strong hugs, the kind that leaves a lingering hold, we parted ways. "Be sure to write," I said with a smile, as they walked away.

Back to blog


Oh Em…this is beautiful. I’m so sorry for their loss. But you and Hana/Nick were meant to meet, exactly when you did🩵🩵
In this crazy, cruel thing called life, amazingly you can find gems 💎
Em, you truly are a gem 💎 , a gift, a blessing to many…including me.

Molly McLaughlin

Such a nice story and shows we just need to follow our hearts to completely fulfilling experiences. Making instant friendships is a great gift you have that not everyone has! Love you!!


Leave a comment