The Hike

The woman sighed, that kind of audible, can-you-feel-my-pain type of sigh that begs for attention. “My daughter is still trying to figure out what she’s going to do with her life.”

Boisterous laughter followed immediately from the younger of her two companions. “Me too!” she giggled now. “I mean, I just graduated last week, and I’ve been working in my field for more than three years, but I have no idea what I want to do with my life!”

I couldn’t help myself. “Do any of us? We work on that every day of our lives. I promise it’s normal, no matter who you are–or how old.” My laugh at the end softened my unsolicited interjection.

The younger of the companions whose name I would learn was Mia, looked up from her determined gait along the trail we traversed, and almost beamed.

“Really?” And she laughed again. Her laughter was strong and sweet and evidence to me that she was going to be more than okay. She had the keys to success already, joy and a passion for adventure. And the way she tackled our hike, it was clear she knew how to work hard and overcome challenges too. She didn’t need to do anything with her life but live and love it!

“Really.” I reiterated. “I still wonder, on a regular basis what I want to do now, or next, and even think to myself…’when I grow up I want to be …’ … seriously, we’re all wondering and seeking…  .”

Her mom, Lila, chimed in, “isn’t that the truth?”

And, isn’t it?

_________________________________________________________________

We hiked Paradise Trail today, a name too obvious for pondering our journeys and reflecting on our destinations, but real nonetheless. As we hiked my mind wandered even as my feet fell solidly on the path.

What will I learn this year? What will I overcome? What difference will I make?

When will I finish my dissertation? What next? Am I doing my best? Is my heart full of love? Do I see people as people?

Do I see myself as valuable enough to answer these questions without judgment?

Atop Paradise Trail I felt strong and certain even though I don’t know what the future holds. I can answer these questions one day at a time, without judgment, and remind myself that I’ve already come a long way.

I have a path I’ve chosen, and it’s beautiful. It’s not paved, but it’s clear enough to follow. There are also plenty of opportunities to veer and revise my route if I choose, which I know is something of a luxury. And there’s some amazing scenery to take in. Even better, there are places to stop and replenish my body and soul with some shade, some company, and of course plenty of water and time to catch my breath. Places like Paradise Trail today.

A group of strangers, all somehow from the state of Oregon converging in the middle of the southern Utah desert to remind each other that no one has it all figured out. We are all deciding daily what to do with our lives. And we need to celebrate that together, for ourselves and for each other.

We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to carve out our own paths and to make them beautiful. Paradise is just where we meet along the way.

_________________________________________________________________

“Going my way?”

“Which way?”

“I’m not sure, it looks promising in all directions.”

“Then let’s head out this way, together, for now.”

“Perfect.”

IMG_1948

 

 

The Stories We Tell

His smile extended all the way to the corners of his gentle eyes as he told his stories. A practiced story teller he reveled in details and dialog and the occasional interjection from the small gathering of onlookers. He played off each chuckle, seized each question, and wove a tale from childhood to infinity that somehow included each of us.

I stayed by his side the next several hours. I studied the wrinkles and sunspots that told their own stories and wondered if my own face would, someday, tell such stories. Did my smiles and sighs and freckles speak to those who knew me? I hoped so.

At nearly 80 he was one of the most vibrant and driven people I’d met. He held nothing back. He shared his musings, his opinions, his knowledge, his philosophies, and, most of all, his lessons learned. But he didn’t just tell. He shared. He recounted events by bringing them to life and engaging each of us.

“You already know the answer,” he said. “You know what that means,” he encouraged. “Each of us is gifted with the ability to understand,” he taught.

And he taught of balance, of a goal orientation that is not obsessed with perfection but with continually living and learning and loving. I needed this lesson today. Well, I need it most days.

As he talked of his father, a topic I’d not expected, I caught myself wondering if he saw something in me that prompted him to take his story from our studies to our childhoods.

“My father was an alcoholic. He was also a workaholic. He didn’t know how to do something without putting everything he had into it. So he would work until he couldn’t work any longer. Then he would drink until he couldn’t drink any longer. He was in love with the extremes in life.”

“He didn’t understand the need for balance…” I began.

“No. He had no idea what balance was,” he affirmed.

“We all struggle with balance but it’s there for us if we want it, if we’d just hold on to it,” I offered.

“You understand,” he said. “You’re here today to find and hold on to some of that balance. And I think that’s just great.”

He continued, “Our parents might not have understood that during our childhoods, but we still learned from them, didn’t we?”

How, I wondered, did he mean that? How could he know my story? Or is it everyone’s story?

We continued in silence for a while before he stopped, just slightly winded, to smile again and bring all of today’s storylines together. He was definitely a master at this.

“We’re still learning. Everyone in our culture is. But this is our world and it’s infinite but it’s up to us to tell the stories that ensure its eternity. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

I smile now remembering and wondering his meaning. He was one of those spirits you don’t soon forget, and I know I will carry his stories with me for some time. He said I didn’t need to write them down but I did need to reflect on them. He said I didn’t need to study them but I did need to share them, for we all have stories to tell; and, now ours are one.

I set down my tablet. I sigh and let in the lyrics that have been swimming in my head:

“Now I wasn’t looking for heaven or hell
Just someone to listen to stories I tell…

Subtle salvation in poems we know
Hiding our heads in a shadow of home
Now I wasn’t looking for wreaths or for bells
Just someone to listen to stories I tell
Stories I tell*”

My story is not over but it has infinite layers, all beautiful, all interconnected, and all shared. I just need someone to listen to the stories I tell.

We all do.

 

 

*Lyrics from Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Stories I Tell”

 

Transported

Ebony etchings tell

lessons of life, death, rebirth

of earth, mind, body, and soul

… and I’m reminded of our spiraling interconnectedness.

Golden God Light

illuminates memories of Ancient Ones

tucked away in the hills of this strange land

… and now I’m transported to another world, another life.

 

Awe-inspired youths listen

IMG_1642soaking in the wisdom of The Teachers

yearning for understanding, seeking affirmation

…and I’m one of them, now and forever.

Infinite worlds collide

Creating past, present, future, and always

Until I finally understand why I’m here,

… And I’m free to be who I was always meant to be.

 

The Stars Have a Place to Shine

“There doesn’t always have to a be a silver lining, sweetie,” my mom would gently remind with that sweet Tinkerbell smile of hers.
“I know there doesn’t have to be, but somehow I always find one” I would reply.

I have always been inspired by simple smiles, kind gestures, and the ability to find good in the world.I marveled at the book and movie Pollyanna. “I want to be like that,” I exclaimed  to my family who sat gathered around the Disney Sunday night movie.

As a teenager, I would often write poetry about the human connections I would observe as I travelled the crime infested path to and from school each morning. I made friends with the elderly and the young families. I joked around with the gang members. I did stay away from the business people, though, because they never seemed to show any emotion, which I just could not understand. How can you be dispassionate in this crazy, wonderful world, I wondered.

The world is a place of beauty and joy and mystery and I’ve always had a reason to smile, even when it seems there might not be that so-called silver lining. Sometimes dark is just dark. And there’s a kind of beauty in that.

What I’ve learned, now well beyond my teenage years, is that there isn’t always something good in every situation. But there is always something good to be found nearby. The stars are able to shine in the dark, after all.

As I prepare for the annual Walk for MS, I do not believe that my diagnosis is a blessing or something to learn from. It is dark and I wish it was not my battle. I do believe my continued health is a blessing, however. And I am learning from this, but that is a choice, not some cosmic lesson benevolently bestowed upon me.

In fact, MS sucks, and I get scared all the time. I am not sweet freckle-faced Pollyanna grateful even when tragedy strikes. But I am grateful that I can live through tragedy, overcome tragedy, and always find joy somewhere. There is no joy in this awful disease. But there is joy in having loved ones to fight it with me.

The Northern Utah Walk for MS is September 10th. Donate here for any MS Fighter, including my team, Walking for the Princess, and smile, not because it’s a blessing to have someone to support in a fight, but because you can fight!

https://secure.nationalmssociety.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=WLK_HOM_donate