Last Thursday afternoon, with my belly full of Thanksgiving turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, topped off by apple-pecan pie a la mode, I drove through the country toward the Eno River State Park. The weather was perfect for a hike– sunny and fifty-seven degrees with a gentle breeze. There were still touches of fall foliage with the leaves that were hanging on proving subtle autumnal color while there was a greater view of the Cole Mill Trail that followed the edge of the river.
A fair number of hikers were on the trail. Some wished me a “Happy Thanksgiving” as we passed on the rocky path, others were walking dogs, one family told me they were exercising before they’d return home to their turkey. I passed one other woman who was jogging.
My thinking is more clear when I’m walking, especially when I’m surrounded by nature. Most holidays I’ve only had time to take my morning walk in my neighborhood; I’ve had to be in the kitchen or travel to see family out of town. Stepping along the path I felt empowered by following through with my plan to have a simpler holiday that allowed time for a special walk.
It reminded me of my yearly Solo Journeys. No matter how things turn out, whether the destination and the interactions are all I hoped for, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I’ve followed the desire of my heart and completed what I set out to do; that’s very satisfying.
Walking my contemplative path by the river, I thought about the parallel path I’ve been trudging during the past seven months. At first, I couldn’t feel my feet beneath me, the shock that I was losing my marriage, overwhelming. Somehow I navigated the steps of those days. Thinking back to that time, I’m grateful for the faith, family, and friends that were my undergirding, the rock of support beneath me.
On the Cole Mill Trail, there were manmade stairs that were steep since they crossed over rock masses where the course went uphill. You couldn’t see what was beyond them. It took more energy to climb those steps. They reminded me of my path and how there’ve been steep challenges with no view of what was ahead, just putting one foot in front of the other walking into the unknown.
There were also more gentle steps along the Eno, constructed of native rock and a much easier, natural climb. Those felt more doable, less effort climbing up and less of a jolt coming down. Some of what I’ve faced on my new path has been slowly realized, gradually worked into my ‘new normal.’
After I’d hiked for about thirty minutes, the sun moved behind the clouds and my jacket felt too thin for the chilly air. A more somber mood fell over the river and over me. Like those days when I’m doing well, the sun is shining, and a memory or snippet from a therapy session rises to my consciousness. My mood changes to blue; it happens so fast it’s almost imperceptible.
So many things remind me of what I’ve lost. I recognize this aspect of grief from the first major loss in my life, the first man, my father. When I was twenty-three, he died of a heart attack. Two months later I was walking through a crowd and suddenly felt sad and my eyes filled with tears. When I stopped to figure out what was going on, I realized a passerby had been smoking a cigar, like Daddy, and the smell of that had stung my eyes and my heart.
I felt tired after only a short walk down the trail– not usual for me. While the day had been what I’d chosen, navigating around the emotions of my first holiday with my family life turned upside down, had worn me out. I was ready to go home and lose myself in a book–let go of my thoughts about meaning and my new path. That was the next step; sit and rest before going forward.
And after I’ve had time for that rest, I’ll put my hiking boots back on and take another step forward on my new path.
How About You?
Are you having to navigate a new path in your life?
How can you have the courage to step forward?
When do you need to rest and restore the energy required for the journey?