Finding a deeper relationship with self from Louisville natives across the U.S.
By Barrett Freibert
Portraits by McCall Besten
As a proud Louisville native who lives in New Mexico, I was ecstatic to write this piece and interview Louisville natives across the U.S. about their perception of home during the coronavirus pandemic. For most, home is not only being surrounded by people who have our best interests at heart but a feeling of peace within.
Peace can be difficult to cultivate during challenging times, especially when you live far away from your loved ones. Whenever I feel my world has been turned upside down, I turn to Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist of our time. He is most famous for his “Hero’s Journey” cycle that can be seen in some of the greatest modern-day films, like Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz.
Campbell says, “At the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” What does this quote have to do with home? To cultivate a peaceful home wherever we go, we must practice having courage to look at what scares us most. We must be willing to clean the cobwebs out of the closet so there is room to breathe.
For years, I ran away. I shut family members’ deaths like a book I wasn’t in the mood to read. I put in overtime at work. I chased the dragon I never met at after-parties. I rushed my healing from Lyme-induced insomnia to return to work in the name of productivity. “Wherever you go, there you are,” my mom repeated in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn as I moved from one activity to another or from state to state. It took a decade for that message to begin to sink in. With each accomplishment or move, loneliness still left me hungry. This feeling lingered long before I moved thousands of miles from home to study writing and healing arts in Santa Fe, NM and before coronavirus shook the globe, creating cracks so big, now rivers run through what we thought to be reliable routines.
Even though this pandemic is financially and emotionally challenging, it has also been a blessing in disguise. Ironically, this mandatory solitude illuminated the source of my loneliness. I had been running away from being with myself, constantly seeking fulfillment outside myself from work, socializing or one more workout class. But true contentment does not live outside oneself, it lives in the present. Joy prevails when we can be present with whatever the present moment throws our way. No matter where we are or who we are with, we are always with ourselves.
I’ve lived in six states. New Mexico has been the most difficult to meet people and create meaningful connections. Yet, it has given me the gift of cultivating a deeper relationship with myself. Ali Besten, who lives in Nashville, TN and runs marketing and sales for Cathead Distillery, said the quarantine allowed her to spend more time with herself. “Before, I was never physically home. I was out of town or socializing. I neglected my home. Now I have gotten back to cooking and working with my hands, it makes me happier. Ironically, those were the last things I would do in my life before,” said Besten.
What if quarantine creates what Joseph Campbell calls, “willed introversion,” and in the space and place of solitude and silence, we see we already have everything we need within ourselves? Campbell’s universal path he calls the “Hero’s Journey” can be broken down into three parts: departure, initiation and return. These three parts recur in mythology, religion and modern-day events, like the coronavirus pandemic.
McCall Besten, who lives in Palo Alto, CA and is a photographer, reflects this sentiment of departure. She said, “All we need, we already have. The pandemic has been a major reset for me and made me realize that we need to go back to the basics — cooking, creating, reading, exploring nature and meditating — and we are all creative beings, we just need the capacity to tap into it. Going inward is challenging but necessary for personal growth. We have to go within ourselves to find home.”
Yet, going inward to cultivate peace is difficult, especially when the world is in chaos. Louisville Real Estate Agent, Katy Spalding, said her biggest challenge during this time has been, “Watching people in the community and around the world suffer, whether it’s mental or physical health, drug abuse, financial hardship or violence, and not being able to plan for the future. There is so much uncertainty.”
As Campbell echoes through all of his teachings, the world has always been in chaos and said, “We’re not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.” I believe we can change the world, but the work must begin with ourselves. This is why it usually takes a hardship for us to look into the red beady eyes of what scares us. Whether that be to investigate the uncertain and violent state of the world, old traumas we’ve buried, or the work it takes to achieve our aspirations.
Ali Besten said, “Covid helped me clean out the cobwebs by giving me an excuse to say no to people and yes to myself. It really helped me figure out my needs and thus better serve others. By not having to be ‘on’ all the time, it gave me an internal reset.” Likewise, it took chronic insomnia for me to re-evaluate my lifestyle and slow down to deal with emotions I had stuffed into my mind’s junk drawer. Sleeplessness still rears its ugly head, especially when emotions move like a buffalo stampede at midnight. Insomnia, like quarantine, is an indicator that I need to slow down and invite painful emotions to lunch so they don’t keep me up at night. Most of the world has more downtime right now to look at what is and what is not working in their lives. There is more time to sit in the discomfort of loneliness or heartache during the darkest hours and to examine how we are the common denominator of our own lives and how that affects the community at large. This is what Campbell calls the initiation stage, leaving what is comfortable to swim in the frigid waters of the unknown. Can we endure the cold plunge?
The pandemic has been a reset for many, like Spalding who said, “The pandemic has given me time to stop and be with myself, to reexamine my goals and aspirations, to meditate. Before I was going nonstop and it has been great to be able to sit still, to not have a million errands to run, people to meet up with and time to do nothing.”
To create a peaceful home, we must do a deep clean during this downtime, both physically and emotionally. When I feel like I am about to lose my mind, I grab Comet, put on yellow gloves, blast rap music and attack my bathtub. As my hands scrub, my mind settles and my mood begins to shift. Sometimes tears come and at other times anger roars and I invite these emotions in. What if quarantine is allowing us time to clear out what no longer belongs and make room for what does? And through deep cleaning, we can be at ease in our own skin.
Mary Beth Rockwell, who now lives in San Francisco, CA and is a senior vice president at a financial institution, said, “Home is a place where family can flourish. It’s not necessarily the city you live in, but your attitude and family surrounding you. It is the people that make you the best version of yourself, so nowadays home can be anywhere.” But home can only be anywhere if we have created a way to flourish within. When we build a solid foundation with ourselves, we invite our loved ones and community to do the same. Spalding observed that, in Louisville, “Neighbors are helping neighbors. There’s a resurgence of buying local and supporting local restaurants. Recently, I canceled my Amazon subscription and instead buy locally, like ordering books from Carmichael’s again or getting supplements at Rainbow Blossom.”
Amid the pandemic, violence and pain, it’s hard to have hope. But we can create home within as McCall Besten said by, “Acknowledging that we are all in discomfort and to share how we are really feeling. This year hasn’t been easy. We need to relate, communicate and sit in the discomfort and show up for each other in more creative ways. There’s no room for judgment right now.” It is up to us as individuals and communities to decide how we will return from this pandemic. What Campbell calls the return or final phase of the “Hero’s Journey” is sharing insights revealed during the initiation stage. It’s time to begin thinking about our takeaways. How do we want to structure our homes and thus communities?
Annetta Donavan, who lives in Edwards, MS and works for a credit union whose mission is to serve distressed communities, said, “I am no longer aiming for the destination, but am on a journey. I don’t enjoy it all the time, but I am allowing myself to look within to find my truth, to become a better person and my hope is in my faith in Christ.” If we want to create a better world, we must begin in our own home, as Donavan said, to look within to find our truth, even when it’s not so fun. So grab your yellow gloves and Comet and be willing to take a good whiff of what has been stinking — loneliness, trauma, insomnia, heartache, pain. Can you locate its roots?
During this mandatory nest of stillness, I uncovered my roots. I realized that the dragon I chased through outward validation actually lives within me. This dragon was simply waiting for me to act with compassion and courage within myself to invite it to tea in the wee hours of the night, to sip and acknowledge what is no longer serving me, to create room for my wildest dreams. Only then, can I be of meaningful service to my community through writing, teaching and supporting others who love and support me. That is where home is.