Rod McAfee

Lesson 2 – The Wanderer: Life Before and After

Goal:  Understand that life’s experiences change one’s view of the world and one’s image of oneself.

Activity: Recreate your life journey on a timeline indicating significant events and choices that form the landscape of your past and present.

The Wanderer

The natural next step of moving from the feeling of being alone is to move towards connection with others; searching for a means of support; trying to find acceptance; looking for answers.

The Journey

Listen to the interview with Rod McAfee.  Rod wandered from job to job after leaving boarding school and returning to the reservation.  There he worked for white farmers doing various agricultural jobs.  Eventually he traveled to Phoenix to find employment when there was little or no work on the reservation.

Rod truly lived the life of a wanderer.  He traveled north by freight train to Oregon and Washington states, finding employment along the way as a migrant worker.  He eventually ended up on Burnside Street in Portland, a neighborhood once known for its bars and flop houses catering to a derelict population.

Life’s Defining Moments

Think of life as a journey where events you experience often leave a lasting impression, an imprint, on your life.  Some events are so meaningful they symbolize a dividing line of what can be thought of as a “before” moment and an “after” moment.

All of us have experienced “before” and “after” moments.   As we mature, we experience changes that have significant impacts on the way we see ourselves and the way we define our place in the world.  The choices we make or things that happen over which we have no control may lead to changes in the roles we play (e.g., addict, counselor, mother, teacher), the groups with whom we affiliate (e.g., racial, tribal, political), and the social conventions we follow (e.g., eating certain foods, belonging to particular groups).

For Rod, “before” and “after” moments might have included:

  • Being sent away to boarding school
  • Leaving the reservation to live in Phoenix
  • Winding up on Burnside Street in Portland
  • Getting into a treatment program
  • Accepting a job offer as a night manager in the treatment facility

Activity:  The Mobius Strip

Because the power of the world works in circles, a life journey might be characterized as a Mobius Strip.  A Mobius Strip is a circle that has the appearance of having two sides, but in reality it has only one.

You can make a circular timeline by using a model called the Mobius Strip.  To make this circle, cut a strip of paper about 20 inches long and an inch wide.  Eventually, you’ll tape the ends together, but before you do this, create a map of your life journey on one side of the strip of paper.  On one side of the strip of paper, record the defining moments you’ve experienced -- the “before” and “after” events of your life.  Start with the date of your birth.  Place another mark and label another “defining moment.”   (Remember, defining moments may include both negative and positive experiences.)  Examples of these events might include:

  • A happy of sad childhood experience that left an “imprint” on your memory.
  • Leaving home for the first time
  • Finding a life partner
  • A death in the family
  • Divorce from a spouse
  • A major illness
  • Graduation from college
  • Having a baby

Review entries on your Life Journey.  Ask yourself what the experience (a loss or benefit) taught you.  Did your self image change? Did it affect your character and how others perceive or relate to you?

Identify times when you felt a sense of belonging and support from others.  Note the times when you felt adrift as a meandering wanderer, in need of healing words or actions.  Acknowledge others (relatives, friends, teachers, colleagues) who have provided guidance and support—or who have offered opportunities to make a transformational change.

“So the head of the inpatient care called me and said we have an opening here for night manager.  You want it?”

“So that’s how I got started and I wound up being a counselor.”

Rod McAfee


Addictions can manifest their own circular patterns of behavior.  For example the chronic drinker faces a number of vicious circles like these:

  • Withdrawal symptoms can be temporarily suppressed by drinking; in time, these symptoms return with increased intensity.
  • Shame and guilt go away when one drinks, but come back with a vengeance when the effects of alcohol wear off.
  • The drinker becomes isolated from people and the resulting loneliness and despair are reasons to drink to dull the pain.
  • Alcohol causes brain damage—impairment leads to having less resistance to an impulse to drink.

Think of ways to “break the circles” that accompany addictions and brainstorm for ideas of ways you can learn to live in balance.

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