Letter to Santa

I look at the picture of Daddy from 1964 when he was caught in the act of Christmas shopping by the photographer from our hometown paper.  He must have been amused at my father managing his cigar above the Rose’s Dime Store box and shopping basket.  When an acquaintance saw the picture and heard my story, he asked me to submit it as a Letter to Santa for his doll magazine.  At fifty-six I wrote my letter.

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Mine was more of a “Thank You” note sent on December 28th so I could tell the whole story.  I would have been in fourth grade.  I started out with acknowledging that I liked my new Barbie with the ponytail and my Barbie Dream House.  I commented, “I’m so glad I finally have a real Barbie — since my parents gave me a fake one for my birthday.”  That memory brought up how hard it was to be a child at Christmas once you knew about the real Santa.  I wanted to be truly happy, not feel any disappointment because I didn’t want to hurt Mama and Daddy.  I know now that when they gave me a fake Barbie it was either because they didn’t understand that it made any difference or they couldn’t afford the more expensive doll.

I remember we were excited that Daddy’s picture was on the Saturday Feature page the week of Christmas.  When I’d looked at it more closely, I realized that Rose’s box had to be my Barbie Dream House.  My younger sister, Peggy, who was five, nor my older sister, Harriet, who was twelve, had asked for anything that size.  I was excited to know that it would definitely be there Christmas morning, but soon afterward, I was disappointed that my surprise had been spoiled.  I knew that even though Daddy grinned for the photographer, he would have been mad underneath because he felt my surprise had been spoiled, too.

That wasn’t the only year I felt that tension– wanting to know versus wanting to be surprised.  My older sister discovered that our parents hid things in one of our barns.  When they were gone, she took me to see our stereo that was covered by a quilt.  Next to it was an empty barrel with a box of Children’s Classics books that we received each year.  It was fun for a while to have that discovery with my sister, to share a secret, but then there was the inevitable letdown Christmas morning when you knew part of your gifts.

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Rosser Family 1962

 

At the end of my Santa letter, I addressed the issue of knowing ahead of time that I was getting the Barbie Dream House.  I said, “But that’s okay, Santa, because I didn’t have to stay awake all night Christmas Eve and wonder if my Dream House would be under the tree.  Instead, I could dream about playing with my Barbie in her perfectly pink bedroom and going back to Miss Harrington’s fourth grade and telling them all about it.”

As an adult writing the letter, I’d seen the benefit of reducing my childhood tension.  While I loved the mystery of Christmas, there was anxiety with the unknown, and later with the known– the way you could disappoint your parents who’d worked so hard to give you their best.  I guess that mix of excitement and anxiety was very real for me as I, along with my older sister, remember that the only time I ever had nosebleeds was on Christmas mornings!

Now, as a parent, I know that my parents would have understood those feelings I had back then.  They would have realized that the Christmas season is filled with a range of emotions, and they would have seen that as just part of life.

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How about you?
What memories do you have of your childhood Christmas?
How do you view your disappointments from an adult perspective?
What new understandings help you to reframe those experiences?

Journeys to the Past

At this time of year, I feel a yearning to return to childhood.  I long to smell the cedar tree decorated with a string of large multi-colored lights and icicles; to taste the cherries in my aunt’s paper-thin cookies; to feel the rush of being in the basement of Rose’s Dime Store looking at my hoped-for toys.  The house in the picture reminds me of our two-story farmhouse and my view from my upstairs bedroom window.  The small sleigh transports me back to my journey to Vermont.

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When I took that trip a couple of summers ago,  I visited Shelburne Museum in the western part of the state.  I was fascinated by their display of sleighs.  Growing up in the South, and not a family who skied or took cold weather vacations, I’d never ridden in a sleigh.  Like the iconic images of Santa and his reindeer, as a child, I thought Currier and Ives winter scenes were like fairytales.  People didn’t ride in sleighs because you never had that much snow — at least not in central North Carolina.

Now, what strikes me about the sleigh in the picture, is that it’s not like Santa and his reindeer, magically ascending into the sky.  Instead, this one looks like an everyday sleigh that would have actually been used to move quickly through the snow.

In the museum, there were all kinds– those that were for formal events and those like workhorses.  The one that captured my attention was a school bus sleigh used to transport children from rural areas of Vermont in the late 1800s.  I could imagine it traveling down the narrow lanes I’d seen on my drive from White River Junction.  Those children were like me, riding home on a school bus.  How beautiful the countryside would be with a blanket of white, that makes the daytime stark and the nighttime mysterious.

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Like other journeys, I wished I could experience Vermont in seasons besides summer.  That would give me a fuller picture of what life was like in that part of the country.  It reminded me how my eyes had been opened on a journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  There I saw a display of a horse-drawn mail carriage.  Inside, I was surprised to find a small pot-bellied stove.  My Granddaddy Smith had been a rural mail carrier in North Carolina in the early 1900s.  He would have needed that warmth in the frigid January days in remote areas of Chatham County.

This discovery from the past seemed to provide a small connection with my grandfather, who died before I was born.  Now I have another way to imagine him that is a gift from one of the places on my journeys.

Both my childhood Christmas memories and discoveries about the past made on my journeys, make me want to return to those times and places.  That’s a universal sadness we all feel.  I guess the best we can do is to travel there in our mind’s eye, savor that memory, and move forward to new places and moments of discovery.

How about you?

When are the times that you feel a yearning to go back?

What do you do with those feelings?

 

You Need to Overseed!

The day Darlene shaved my head when it was inevitable that my hair would fall out, fifteen days after my first chemo, I returned home wondering how my family would handle it.  When my tenth-grade son, Brooks saw me, he said, “Mom, you look like G.I. Jane!” and chuckled.  Months after I finished my treatment and I had enough hair to go without my wig, he noticed the uneven growth.  He rubbed that area then instructed me with his new knowledge from his part-time job at the golf course, “You need to overseed!”

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Wearing my new hair to my sons’ band concert

I appreciated his humor because mine was failing.  I’d been terrified of cancer– partly because I was mortified of losing my hair.  When I saw a mother of a boy who played basketball with my sons, walk into the gym in a baseball cap, her dark hair gone, I felt like I’d been gut-punched.   It’s happened to her, I thought. Now I was like her, one of them, going through cancer treatment and feeling the pity of others.

My ninth-grade son, Ross was more tentative about seeing his mother bald.  He first observed me from across the room, not able to tolerate a closer look.  Later, when I tried on the wig Darlene had helped me choose, he responded, “Couldn’t she make it look more like you, Mama?”  It had to be hard for him, wondering if I was going to be okay and seeing me bald.  At that age, mothers were embarrassing if everything was normal.

My husband, David, carefully examined my shaved head.  He palpated the area at the crown.  He had made a comment in the past about hoping I never went bald because of that “flat spot” on my head.

“It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would,” he said, and we both laughed.

I wore the wig when I was away from home.  I’d never been one for hats and felt the wig was closer to my pre-cancer self.  But it was hot and itchy, so every day when I came in from work, I took it off.  We all got used to me going bald around the house.

One day, we were rushing to get the boys to their high school for marching band practice.  They knew if they were late, the band director would make them run laps around the football field in the September heat.  When I was turning out of our development onto the highway, I touched the top of my head and was startled to feel my smooth scalp.

“I forgot to wear my wig!”

Brooks, who was riding shotgun, looked surprised.  In my rearview mirror, I could see horror on Ross’s face

“You have to go back, Mama,” Ross told me.

I went back, and they would have to run laps—the price they’d pay to save me, and themselves, from embarrassment.

I finished chemo and then thirty-two radiation treatments.  By the end of March, the yellow forsythia bloomed in my garden and my fuzzy duck hair was long enough to toss the wig.  Some of my radiation tiredness had lessened and I felt the stirring of hope with the emergence of spring.

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“It’s my Easter hair,” I said to myself.  New life after going through the darkness.

My family had changed with me through cancer.  I would always remember how Ross grew to the point of kissing my head “to help my hair grow.”  Brooks continued to check for areas to overseed.  Later, when he became a Golf Course Superintendent, I would associate that portion of his work with his tender care of his mom’s ‘crop of hair.’

How blessed I felt by the love of these men in my life through the days of cancer.

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So proud of my grown sons, Brooks on the left and Ross on the right

 

How About You?

Have you had cancer or another illness or situation that has stripped away some of your dignity?

How did you manage through that time?

How did the people in your life help you through your situation?

 

 

Enlarge My Territory

The day after I was fired from The Research Company, I packed my suitcase for our family vacation at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.  I was in a state of shock, thinking that for the first time in my adult life, I had no job to return to.  My husband, David came in and handed me a little book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson.  David said our friend had sent it to me.  Guess I’ll have plenty of time to read now, I thought, and tucked the book in between pairs of shorts.

The next day, I walked with my family along the beach, wanting to enjoy the wide smooth shoreline underneath a cool blue sky.  The final scene at The Research Company kept pushing to the surface, stealing my sunshine.  On most occasions, I totally relaxed at the coast, but this time it was hard to release my despair.

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We came in for a break from the afternoon heat.  I pulled out my book, an unexpected gift from someone who knew I was in pain.  It reminded me of many such offerings I’d received during cancer treatment.  Somehow the book would be used to help me through this.

I read the prayer that’s found in the Bible in Chronicles 4:10 (KJV):

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause Pain!”  So God granted him what he requested.

How does this relate to me, I thought as I read the first chapters, then put the book down to take a nap.  Over that week and the ones that followed, I prayed the prayer many times, inserting my name in place of Jabez.  The portion of the verse that stayed with me was the enlarge my territory.  I started applying for positions with research companies and wondered if I might land a job that would take me to interesting places.

Eventually, I received an offer from Duke University.  When I clarified the ‘must be able to travel’ portion of the job description, I learned the study would require me to spend 70% of the time in Canada.  Not that I didn’t like Canada, but I didn’t want to be away from home that much with my boys now entering 10th and 11th grades.

As I explored other research jobs, there were similar travel requirements.  I was surprised when the door opened for me to return to school nursing.  No travel beyond the sixteen miles to my school.  How could God enlarge my territory if I was going back to a familiar place?

I was received into the opening arms of McDougle Middle School, a healing center after being torn down by The Research Company while in cancer treatment.  One gift that came out of that was my serendipitous journey to Sedona that became a pilgrimage.  Within a few years of returning to the school system, I benefitted from our two-month summer break by taking my first intentional journey to Jekyll Island.  After that, I made it a practice to take time for a pilgrimage every summer.

 

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Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel, Cape Vincent, NY

As my confidence grew, I casted a wider net, going from the familiarity of the South to the Northeast, Northwest, and recently, Scotland.  Thinking back to the Jabez prayer, I see how God has enlarged my territory through my yearly pilgrimages.  My travel came through a vehicle that I was totally unaware of when I walked that shoreline at Kiawah Island.  God had surprised me once again.

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Summit of Mt. Constitutions overlooking Puget Sound, Washington State

How about you?

Have you been surprised by unexpected turns in your life?

How did you see good things come out of what seemed like destruction?

Are there ways that you saw a greater good in how things turned out than how you’d imagined?

 

 

 

 

Hostel Mama at Martha’s Vineyard

The first time I stayed in a hostel it was not because my family encouraged me.  My older son couldn’t believe it, questioning my rationale with, “Mom, you’re gonna stay in a hostel with axe murderers?” and then my younger son said, “Aren’t you too old to stay there?  I thought they were for college kids.”  I was fifty-two and wondering if he was right.  I wanted to take my solo journey to Martha’s Vineyard and the only way I could afford it was to stay in the hostel that was twenty-seven dollars a night.  I would make it work if it meant a week on that spectacular island.

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It was an adventure just getting there: by plane to Logan, chartered bus to Wood’s Hole,  ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, island shuttle bus to the hostel.  A staff member with Hostelling International, who was probably older than me, was working at the desk when I checked in.  He showed me around the sprawling two-story hostel that had been a farmhouse years before.  Since it was mid-June, I was staying before the busy season and wouldn’t share my dorm room until the weekend.

After I put my things away in my cubby, I made a cup of peppermint tea and took it to the sitting room.  A man, who appeared to be in his thirties, was lying on the sofa reading.  I sipped my tea and knitted, trying to settle into my temporary home.  After a while, he sat up and said hello, then asked what brought me to Martha’s Vineyard.

“I’m here on my yearly solo journey.  I’ve been wanting to visit this area,”  I told him.

“Mam, do you mind if I ask where you’re from?”

Mam, OUCH! I must be too old to be here, I thought, then told him I was from North Carolina.

“I moved here from South Carolina.  Been here too long.  It’s so nice hearing your Southern accent.”

From that point on when he saw me he stopped to chat.

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Saturday Farmer’s Market at West Tisbury

Over the weekend, the house filled up with a variety of guests: students and teachers from a private high school near Boston, cyclists biking the island to prepare for a race, recent engineering graduates from a college in Ireland.  A young married couple from Boston had biked from the ferry landing with their two-year-old son.  The mother sat near me one morning in the kitchen while her husband took their boy outside.  Between sips of coffee, she told me how she needed a break.

“I love staying home with my son,” she said.  “But sometimes I miss adult conversation.”  She explained that her husband had long days at his internship at MIT.  She missed her home in Texas.

“Yeah, I remember those days and how tiring they can be,” I told her.

“It’s so nice hearing your voice,” she said.  “Reminds me of how much I miss my mom.”

Her husband came in with their son, and the young mother got up to join them.  “It was so nice meeting you,” she said and gathered her things.

The Irish boys looked puzzled with the directions over the griddle.

“Need some help?” I asked, then showed them how to use the pre-made batter, cautioning them to watch closely so they wouldn’t set off the smoke alarm like I had.

By my last day at the hostel, I felt a sense of satisfaction as part of that international community of travelers.  It had been a wonderful base for exploring the towns and shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard.  How glad I was that I’d taken a chance on the hostel and had been enriched by the people in my path.  And perhaps I’d made a role for myself as a ‘Hostel Mama,’ providing some much needed mothering for children far from home.

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Edgartown lighthouse

 

More pictures posted on my Author Facebook page – Saved by Sedona

What about you?

Have you ever thought of trying something new but were afraid you wouldn’t fit in, were making a mistake, or may look foolish?

How did you proceed?  Were you pleased with how things turned out?

 

 

 

The Things People Say

I can remember the scene like it was yesterday.  The three of us sharing the office at The Research Company.  Tara had seen a former co-worker who’d just started cancer treatment.  She said to Beth, the other woman in our office, “I can’t believe she’s worried about her weight.  She’s just lucky to be alive.”  Beth nodded in agreement and I felt the sting of that comment.  Don’t they see me, I thought, feeling the words puncture my heart.

Later, I wished I’d spoken up, even shouted, “It’s not just about being alive.  She wants to really live.”  Of course the woman was grateful to be alive.  But she also wanted to live her life fully, like cancer hadn’t changed anything.  Did Tara and Beth forget that I’d just been through eight months of treatment?  Hadn’t they seen me live through the embarrassment of losing my hair and gaining weight on the steroids?  How could they be so insensitive?

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Now I see the image of the birds, the two on the right, looking out, ignoring the white-faced bird.  Maybe this is like people; flying in for a moment, chirping, then flying away, never looking beside them to see the other birds on the wire.  I’ve heard fellow cancer survivors, people with disabilities, recipients of racial slurs– to name a few, have the same reaction to thoughtless words, insensitive comments that made them feel invisible.

I wasn’t totally surprised at the women at The Research Company.  I’d seen that same insensitivity in other situations.  But I was surprised months before that with a comment by a woman I’d previously worked with in the school system.  I visited her when I was going through chemo.  Another woman whom I’d worked with joined us.  I told them about my treatment, and they saw me for the first time in my wig.

“Well what do you do when you and your husband have sex?” the first woman asked.  “Put a bag over your head?”

I was shocked at what she thought was humorous, listening to her chuckle, and trying to come up with a response.  Later, when I had my wits about me, I felt like saying, “He’s never been that unkind.”

How could she make such a heartless comment?  I knew from those years of working with her that she wasn’t like that.  Did she, like others, say stupid things when they were trying to just say something to break the silence when they were uncomfortable?

Insensitive comments are the ones we remember.  These two have stayed with me for seventeen years.  But if I’m honest, sometimes I’ve been guilty of the same thing.  I get caught up in trying to make my point, or be humorous, or in some way impress others and I don’t think before I speak.

I’ve chirped off words without looking beside me to see the others on the wire.

One day, when I was working in my yard with my brother-in-law, we talked about how to forgive others when they’ve said or done things that were hurtful.

“We forgive because we need to be forgiven, too.  We all have feet of clay,” he said, the counsel that had been offered to him now multiplied to me.  The image of clay feet, of my own humanness, stayed with me.

The challenge is to slow down and notice those in my presence, to imagine how life is for that person.  When I listen to how they are experiencing life, without putting my own value judgments on what they’re saying, then I really see them.  Out of that, I can respond in a manner that supports instead of hurts, saying things that will bring blessing instead of curse.

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Walking with fellow Breast Cancer Survivor and Friend, Mary

What about you?
Have you carried hurtful responses that you either received or directed at someone?
How can you forgive yourself or the other person?
How can you be gentle with yourself, knowing that you have feet of clay?

Second Chance to Know You

It was 1966 and he was home on leave for Thanksgiving.  My cousin, Danny and my Grandma Smith hold his fresh catch from her farm pond.  He’d just completed boot camp and was ready to serve on the USS Cacapon docked in Long Beach, California.  I was an eleven-year-old kid looking up to my twenty-two-year old cousin.  Now, fifty-one-years later, I have a second chance to know him.

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We meet every year on Veteran’s Day at Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County –within five miles of where our Grandma Smith had lived.  This tradition started years ago after we discovered our common interest in hiking.  Prior to that, I’d only spent time with him when he or his family would come by our home or we were at a gathering at Grandma Smith’s.  I liked his sense of humor and always found him easy to talk with– especially for a guy.  Must have been because he was a middle child, too, with an older and younger sister, like me.

Now we take the Campbell Loop trail that’ll be five miles into the hardwood forest.  The path follows a stream that flows into the Cape Fear River.  Over the years we’ve developed a familiar pattern of steady walking with stops to admire the natural wonder around us: light through the leaves, the way the water has carved the rock, fallen trees like sculpture over the stream.  Along the way, we talk everything from news of our families, to politics, to issues of faith.

Sometimes we go back to memories of our teenage years.  I love hearing his stories about a girl he liked, the male perspective I’d missed by not having brothers.  Danny listens to my account of boys I chased that lived just down the road from Raven Rock in the Boone Trail community.  I wish he’d been around then to give me advice.

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Danny’s turn to lead

We go at a comfortable pace, walking through our topics.  At the end of our hike, I’m rewarded by Danny cooking lunch for me over his hibachi.  He’d insisted on this and asked that I just bring carrots.  He’d brought fillet mignon, shrimp, tossed salad, and cold adult beverages.
We sit and wait for the coals to burn down.  I can see Grandma Smith in the way he listens, then thoughtfully responds.  Danny’s blue-gray eyes and profile remind me of her.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to get to know him in adulthood as I could not when I was a child.  It’s given me a deeper knowledge of my family and of myself.
I remember several years ago when I was planning my solo journey.  There was another cousin I wanted to know better.  I’d seen from spending time with Danny how it had enriched our lives.  I planned my trip to Michigan by way of Toledo and visited my cousin, Shirley.  (see post– Distant Cousins). Like my time with Danny, I made new discoveries that helped me to know her, and myself, better.
I’m hungry after our long walk and the grilled shrimp and steak are the perfect meal.  It’s nice to feel taken care of by my older cousin, like the big brother that I’d always wanted.
When we pack up to leave, the sun is slanting it’s golden afternoon light on the trees.  I have a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, not just from our delicious lunch but from the day that has been well- spent.  Once again we’ve deepened our bond that has carried us through the years and will into the future.  I’m grateful that I’ve had this second chance to know him.
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Me and Danny on Veteran’s Day Hike

See more photos at my Author Facebook page– Saved by Sedona
 
What about you?
Have you had someone that you’ve been able to get to know more fully at a later time in your life?
How has that experience changed you?

Looking Back Looking Forward

I study the photograph from four years ago with me standing next to a tall red rock in the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs.  It was unusual for me to take my solo journey in April, but that trip was planned around the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  On that Monday afternoon, I was full of anticipation about pitching my memoir, Saved by Sedona to a literary agent.  I didn’t know that the next day I’d develop acute altitude sickness.

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I could barely make it back to the guesthouse from the Cog Railroad that had traveled up Pike’s Peak to 11,500 feet, the summit for that day due to high winds.  Finally nestled under the covers of my bed, my body ached with fever and chills.  Why does this have to happen to me now, God, I muttered.  Will I be well enough to participate in the conference?  I slept that day and most of the next, sitting up for brief periods to finish writing that had been put off until the last minute.

Early Thursday morning, I managed to drive across town to the opening session.  I was exhausted but determined to go through with the seven-minute pitch.  When I finished, I was stunned when the agent asked me to send my entire book proposal.  It seemed that everything had worked out and my goal had been reached.  That must be why I was led to come here, I thought and felt like one of the winners when I sat at the agent’s table that night at dinner.

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I floated on that feeling when I returned to North Carolina.  Two months later when dealing with my mother’s sudden illness, I received a rejection letter from the agent.  While I knew that wasn’t unusual, that disappointment came at a difficult time.  I comforted myself by saying if it hadn’t been for the April conference, I wouldn’t have been able to take my solo journey.  My summer break was spent with Mama in hospitals and rehab facilities.  I tried to rest in God’s timing for when my memoir would be published.

Three years later, when my summer journey took me to Kentucky for a two-week writer’s residency, I immersed myself in studying memoirs.  It came to me in that little house in the country, that I’d only told half of the truth.  While I’d been honest about my cancer experience, I’d not shared about being fired from my job at The Research Company.  My shame had prevented me from telling everything, from acknowledging that some days the job was harder than cancer treatment.

Looking at the red rocks in the picture takes me back to that first pilgrimage to Sedona.  There I felt God’s presence, the still small voice inside leading me, healing from my cancer and the struggles at work.  I didn’t know then that I was also being prepared for the valley ahead.

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At my recent conference of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’, a publisher spoke about memoirs.

“Your book’s not ready until you’re on the healing side of the journey,” she said.  She gave examples of rejected manuscripts that described the pain of the life-changing event but stopped short of the healing resolution.

Since Kentucky, I’ve gone back and slowly worked through the scenes at The Research Company — both on paper and in my heart.  I’ve grappled with what part I played in those struggles, and where I needed to let go of my anger.  Looking back over the years, I see a path that has been forged toward the healing side of the journey.  Now I’ve rewritten my memoir, this time with the whole truth.

I look forward to the future when that manuscript will be a book on the shelf.

(Additional pictures posted on Author Facebook page–  Saved by Sedona)

 

How About You?

What experiences have you had that made you feel you’d reached your goal only to be disappointed that you weren’t there yet?

Were you able to look back and see why it wasn’t the right timing for what you desired?

As you look forward, how can you use these experiences to help you rest in the timing of how things progress in your life?

On Pilgrimage with Harold Fry

One morning when I walked in my neighborhood, I made a serendipitous discovery; a Little Free Library had just been installed.  Inside the birdhouse for books, I spotted a title that caught my eye—The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  Months later when our Edinburgh-bound train passed Berwick-upon-Tweed, I remembered how it had been the right book at the right time.

In the novel by Rachel Joyce, Harold receives a letter from a coworker from twenty years prior, Queenie Hennessy who’s in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England.  The letter and a chance encounter that follows, serve as catalysts for Harold to get up from his retirement recliner and set out on a quest.  He decides he’s going to walk the 600 miles from his home in southern England to see Queenie in the northeastern corner.  He tells her to hold on, don’t die, he’s on the way.

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On Harold’s journey, he learns from the people in his path.  He reviews his life and works through losses and regrets.  The letter triggered him to take action and do something he’d never done before.

While the book is a novel, I saw many things that rang true of going on a pilgrimage—whether to a faraway place or within your community.

Receiving the letter was the event that started a reaction in Harold.  He stepped forward and moved beyond his complacency.  When he’s suddenly invigorated by his mission he leaves everything behind.  The catalysts for me to step out of my complacency were being diagnosed with cancer and being fired from a job. I wanted to live with more intention, seeking what my heart desired instead of waiting for things to magically happen.

Along the way, Harold learns to pay attention to the small things, to be present and see for the first time.  He wasn’t able to see what was in front of him at his home until he took off on the journey.  I’ve found that going away by myself, forces me to take notice—as a means of safety as well as to savor my new experiences.

When Harold arrives at the hospice, finally reaching Queenie, things aren’t as he expected.  In the process of taking the journey, he’d changed internally and externally, and returned home to a different place.  While the pilgrimage didn’t lead to what he’d hoped, he received benefits that he hadn’t anticipated.  I’ve found that with most of my journeys —that while my strong imagination makes me think I have a good idea what I’ll encounter, it’s always different.  There are new “ah-has” that I never would have thought I’d receive on the trip.

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Train station in London

When my husband and I rode the train from London to Edinburgh, we passed Berwick-upon-Tweed.   I imagined Harold walking through the English countryside to arrive at that place.   Part of me wanted to get off the train and search for Queenie’s hospice.  Through the window, I got a glimpse of the waters of the North Sea and remembered that Harold struggled at the waterfront before going to see Queenie.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was the right book at the right time, reinforcing in fiction what I’ve found to be true.  Pilgrimage changes your life.  I was glad I could join Harold on his walk across England and anticipate what he’d find while I wondered what I would discover on my journey.

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What about you?

Have you experienced a serendipitous discovery in a familiar place?

How did that treasure impact your life?

How have your eyes been opened from that experience?

Childhood Dreams

The dream of riding a horse in the wide-open West had been with me since I was a girl.  Those Saturday morning shows like Roy Rogers spurred my interest, making me want to feel that freedom from a saddle.  When my Aunt Polly told me stories of visiting the Tetons, my dream broadened to riding horseback there.  It was time to make that a reality.

I scheduled my solo journey to Wyoming.  I’d learned from cancer that you should live with intention, not wasting the time you have by postponing your heart’s desires.  Each trip I completed gave me more confidence in boldly stepping forward and trying new things.  I’d hiked a mountain alone and stayed with strangers in hostels.  Surely I could ride a horse again– even though it had been at least thirty years.

I planned my stay at Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.  They offered riding trails led by experienced wranglers.  Their website stated all levels of riders could participate.  I assumed they’d give me a gentle horse, an old gray mare for a middle-aged woman.  But instead, they assigned me to Tequila.

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Great, I thought, a horse that can make you crazy.

“She’s good, but sometimes she wants to lead the pack,” the college-age wrangler told me.  “I’ll ride behind you to help you keep her in line.”

I felt my first flutter of panic, climbing up into the saddle on the very tall horse.  I couldn’t believe how high up it felt once I was seated– my height added to Tequila’s.  We practiced how to use the reigns and heard instructions on going up and downhill.

We followed the lead wrangler, starting out through a forest where the ground was level.  About the time I felt myself relaxing, Tequila jerked to the side to move in front of the horse in front of us.   I clung to the saddle horn for dear life as the wrangler came around from behind and expertly edge Tequila back into position.

The trail started downhill and the lead wrangler turned to face us.  “Remember to sit back and keep your toes facing the sky,” the wrangler told our group of nine.

I did what she said but felt like I was going to go over the top of the horse.  Level ground was much better!

Finally, it was flat again as we entered a grassy meadow with wildflowers: red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Balsamroot, and blue lupines.  We stopped in front of Jenny Lake that was as smooth as glass and the stunning mountains were mirrored in the water, a double beauty to behold.  We sat on our horses and drank in the splendor.

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I felt like I’d arrived to the dream of my childhood.  That place really existed and now as an adult, I was getting to discover it.  Taking a breath of the clean, evergreen-scented air, I felt thankful that I’d made it to the Tetons.  The journey I’d started in my imagination as a child had now been achieved.  This feeling of accomplishment, of completion, was worth all the effort it took to get here, and worth conquering my fear of riding a horse, a very tall horse.

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How about you?

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of but never made it there?

Is there an activity you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid to try?

How could you make your dreams become realities?