There’s a weird smell in Mankato, Minnesota—a cross between burning tires and apple pie hangs in the air—suggesting industry, sure, but more—something more deeply rooted, probably not good, probably poisoning the inhabitants, who wonder years later how the hell they got ball cancer. It was as if I’d gone through a portal that ripped me away and transported me to Ohio.
Finding a place to eat lunch was at the top of my list, but there truly seemed to be no parks in Mankato. I finally settled for going to the University, but getting there required riding my bike up a long incline, which I was able to do, so I walked it and found my legs in knots by the time I got to the top. Finding a place to sit and eat became the next challenge as I rode around on top of the hill on which the University if perched. I found a spot in a garden-like area in front of one of the buildings. There was a kind of horseshoe walk lined with oaks, maples, and various varieties of flowers. The maples in the center are already foretelling the approach of Autumn in the fiery hue of orange erupting in their leaves.
From my place on one of the wooden benches, I could see a young woman across the horseshoe with a giant pad, a palate, and a collection of brushes. I thought how cool it was that she had the guts to sit in such a public place and paint. I’d done so while painting caricatures at Valleyfair a number of summers ago, but I had to as a part of the business. A certain reluctance in me to bother people I don’t know typically holds me back from doing what I want, which in this case was going over to see what she was painting and talking to her about it.
Later, some people were standing near a guy at a bench not far from me. I overheard one of the young women say, “We’re just going around seeing what everyone else is doing.” It was then that I realized there were a number of people sitting around this place painting. I overruled my general reluctance to bother people I don’t know and went over to talk to them. It turns out, this was a watercolor painting class and the teacher had sent them out to this place to paint. In reward for pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, I met three lovely and very talented painters. We stood around chatting for a while, and one was even able to give me directions to find a grocery store when I left the University.
When I left that morning, I had no idea where I was headed. I’d learned to begin trusting the Universe to direct me, and here I could see I was led to people I might call “my tribe,” aspiring artists, and one was also a writer. We shared many of the same values. It was encouraging to see them using their artistic abilities and I was able to talk some of my values in striking off on this crazy journey. It was a confirmation that the Universe takes us to places that help us become whom we know we need to be.
Later that afternoon, I found the Cub Foods and inside discovered they had a place where you could sit and eat. A girlfriend from years ago and I used to go to groceries instead of restaurants to save money. I always found it fun and exciting to have the entire store to choose from, finding those items I most wanted, and sitting down to eat them. It felt sad to leave my new friends at the University, but this dining opportunity at Cub cheered me up.
While eating, I struck up a conversation with an eighty-year-old touch healer. She has a gift of being able to use touch to help people relax and feel at peace. She discovered her gift late in life and was telling me she knew she’d live to be older than one hundred because she had to make up for the time she lost earlier in her life as she lived by more conventional ideology. We talked for some time, finding we shared much in common in how we see the world. She said it was such a joy to meet someone like me because there just weren’t that many people around with whom you could talk about such things without them getting all “German Lutheran on you.” Again, I was greatly encouraged and fascinated to see these “chance meetings” that were so encouraging, especially after the first few really difficult days of my trip.
I entrusted my way to the Universe that morning, uncertain where it would lead, and I could see how each “wrong turn,” each seemingly “insignificant” decision lead me to these two very enriching experiences with people it was a great pleasure and joy to meet. I sat in Cub Foods for a bit after the touch healer left to write my thoughts and got choked up as I thought about it and put it all together. It was a moment of learning for me.