Leaving Utah

dream family shamanism story

Watching Eastern Nevada fall away in the rear view mirror is a meditation on how big life is here in the desert, and how small your own life can be. We are a tiny black spot soaring over I-80’s winter blacktop, Tadg with his face buried in the iPad – ears bound by headphones, my Mom still holding her coffee (now cold) from this morning. After she spent so many years in that house it comes down to one car load and two days to cross the desert to the coast.

Dad wanted to leave Utah this way, heading to a new life by the Ocean. Its funny how water connects us and pulls us apart. He was the one who dragged me out of that lake when I nearly drowned all those years ago, now I’m driving his ashes, my Mom, son, and artifacts that story 45 years of their life in Utah out to the coast. I think my Dad always secretly thought of himself as a fisherman of old, it was a biological need to be near an Ocean. He was always more than just a guy standing in a stream with a fishing rod, but a true son of the Sea. I don’t know if it was his spirit that gave me a miraculous healing around the downing my last night in Utah,  I’d like to think he had something to do with it. It felt like his kind of tough love.

Leaving Utah
The last thing to go in the car besides us.

This final trip brought up a lot of childhood memories that I (of course) wanted to act out on my son. Almost every summer the family would pile in the car and drive out to one coast or the other (the luxury of a teachers schedule and cheap gas.) For Tadg I imagined romps in the snow (there was none on the Salt Lake valley floor), stacks of comic books to keep him busy on the long drive (“iPad thank-you-very-much-Papa”), and fun exploring all the crazy places between here and the coast (OK that worked out great!) Turns out the best moment was standing in the house of my childhood and seeing my son there, safe, happy, and healthy. Beautiful dude.

“You know your father and I used to go fishing at least once a week?”

“When – in the summer time?”

“No, while you kids were in school.”

Me – dumbfounded: “Every week? I never knew.”

“Yes your father had a day or 1/2 day off during the week, we’d go fishing together. I did a lot of fishing.”

Never knew that – fishing on the sly while I slaved away at school! I bet a little nookie out on the water as well. How much of their lives was I totally ignorant of – probably most. Mom has a lot of stories of conflict and struggle with Dad, some good times as well. His public and private personas were often at odds. He was often short tempered at home (thats putting it very kindly) but also one of those people who has fans everywhere. I fully expect, someday when I’m really old, for my doctor or TV repair man to come up to me, reach out for my hand and say: “I knew your Dad, he helped me out when I was having a really rough time. He was a good man.”

Clandestine Fishing Duo
Clandestine Fishing Duo

“Tim, I don’t think I can call your brother from my cell phone because he’s on a different network.” Conversations erupted suddenly like popcorn cooking in the glove box with my Mom and son as the miles rolled by.


“I keep getting this strange message that he can’t be located on this network.”

“No thats another problem. You can still call John even though he’s not on your cell plan.”


{This is one of those moments when I silently strategize about how I’m going to explain something technological that most of us take for granted to my Mom. She will not under any circumstances take my word for it, after all I’m just a kid. I came up with a good one.}

“I am absolutely certain you can call John on his network, do you know how I know?”

{long pause}”No.”

“Because many years ago your husband, my Dad, helped write and champion legislation that forced the phone company to open its networks to new technology entrepreneurs …”

“HA! You’re right!”

Growing up the way Dad did, he knew we kids had to be tough and well educated to succeed in the world. He made it his mission to make sure we had both qualities firmly under out belts. He was hard on us boys, hard the way his immigrant mother was hard on him. Sitting next to my Mom on the long drive, talking about the last 40+ years, I realize I have her to thank for my real strength, not Dad so much. She bore much alone in a town that never really embraced her. She never endured it silently however, somewhere out there is an old electric range saturated with her wonderfully profane cursing and well beaten by her cast-iron pans.

“Papa are we close to our hotel yet?”

“No bud, we’ve got 5 or 6 more hours to go.”

I would have asked that a few hundred times back in the day, Tadg only did it about a dozen. Total travel champ. Tadgs dark olive skin and long flowing black hair stand out in the crew-cut whiteness of Nevada, people are friendly enough though.

“Nice six-shooter Annie Oakley!”

“Uh, more like Billy the Kid.”

“Oh right – you look like one tough hombre.”

I knew when I had a son I’d never hit him or threaten him the way my Dad did. On long trips like this Dad would often utilize the “famous Flynn backhand” to silence any argument between us kids. Pipe set in his teeth, one hand on the wheel while another swooped over the back seat, mowing down whoever was too slow to duck. I think those were the only times he hit my sister, by accident. Thats one memory I’d like to leave in Utah.

Dad had his own version of driving across the desert to put life into perspective, he called it the Planetarium talk. He would take you to the local Planetarium, sit through a show and then turn to you at the end and say “see, in the grand scheme of things none of us are really important at all!” Somehow he found this especially comforting, when I was young I thought it legal proof of his insanity. The older I get, the more I discover its nutty wisdom. With all the mistakes I make in life, I like being small, not even as important as scrubs of sage clinging to the mesa’s along the road. Dad gave many people the Planetarium talk over the years, a few times he took dear friends who had not much time to live.

Summer Driving Crew
Summer Driving Crew

In my dream there were hands holding me down in the water, I couldn’t tell who they belonged to, maybe some were his. I was back there, my littlest self, re-experiencing drowning. I was also somehow my fullest spirit, not disconnected and watching from a distance, but deeply connected and full of power. I was simultaneously a part of the bigness of life and struggling to live. The water was sealing me in, like thick plastic against every part of me, filling me.

The panic quickly over-took me, pulling me down – “Oh my God I’m drowning, Oh my God I’M DYING!” Blackout – then I sat bolt upright in bed gasping, heart rocking my chest. It was over, I re-experienced what I could never remember, those moments of panic and struggle. The dream-gift was as sudden as the experience itself. The room was dark and quiet, Tadgs breath soft and regular beside me.

I knew surely, immediately, that I would never have to experience that again. I knew I would never be plagued by that block in my solar plexus from the pain of that final, spasmodic breath as the water filled me. Some part of me was now fundamentally unbound by a fear that had dogged me most of my life. The spirits had gifted me a dream that would allow me to forever leave that trauma behind. They had been showing me I needed to clear my heart, I needed an unsticking.

W h a t    a n    u n s t i c k i n g.

It was more than a gift, as my friend Lora pointed out, it was a miracle. That was it, the stuck thing I could not get to. It was gotten to for me, but good. Maybe it was Dad finishing what he had started that day when he pulled me out of the drink. What a thing to leave in the rear-view mirror. Thank you spirits.

We usually tell clients receiving shamanic healing that soul loss is most commonly a kind of survival mechanism. Some part of our spirit doesn’t want to experience something so it just leaves. Its the shamans job to return that part of our spirit to us. This was the part of my spirit that fully experienced the trauma of near-drowning, this dream was the means by which I received it fully back into the whole of me. In a way I had been absent from this part of my own spirit. My body became more whole, more able to be present, receive and move energy. This is what I’d been waiting for, what I’ve been working towards.

The first night out of Utah, in Reno, Tadg and I got to spend some time together in the hotels heated swimming pool for kids. He’s still learning how to swim, so safety and trust is key to each experience in the pool. We had a blast flying around in the water, him riding on my back, kicking and laughing so hard it turned to a chortle. Together we made a hairy mini-aquatic monster splashing anyone who ventured too near. It didn’t even occur to me to think about that healing I’d just received, I was happy just to be laughing with him.

One of the handful of boxes we packed into the car for the final voyage home contained stories my Mom had written way back when. Ever since Dad died she’s been talking about the writing classes she took, about writing again. She has so many stories inside her, she’s held on to the ones she wrote out in her twenties and thirties. I can feel so much of what lies within her beautiful, rich, deep heart. Somehow I think now that she’s left Utah, she might really be ready to finally write again.

So our stories follow us down the road, and thats not a bad thing at all. They can be a part of our healing, a part of the remaking of us into a more whole self. We just have to be able to show up with the fullness of spirit so each story starts its own fire of transformation. Each story can feed the fire and heat the cauldron if we’re willing to go there.

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