For the past ten years, I’ve spent Veteran’s Day hiking with my favorite living veteran, my cousin, Danny. He’s eleven years older than me, so when I was young and we had our big family gatherings at our Grandma Smith’s, we didn’t hang out. I thought of him like an older brother. Since I only had two sisters, I’d always wanted a brother, especially one who could pave the way for me and help me understand life from a male perspective.
When I was a girl, I loved for Danny to stop by our house on his way to Grandma’s. He had a great sense of humor and teased his younger cousins. I loved hearing him talk about being stationed on the USS Cacapon docked in California and serving areas of the South Pacific.
For our Veteran’s Day treks, we go to Raven Rock State Park that’s just a few miles from where Grandma lived. We choose a trail and hike for a while, then stop along the path, lean against our walking sticks and ponder some new tidbit of discovery. These conversations have given me a greater understanding of my family history since Danny’s been around longer than me.
This year we had to postpone our hike for two weeks. During that time of delay, it seemed the list of things I needed to do for my part-time job, for Indie publishing my memoir, and to manage my new role of taking care of my grandson on Wednesdays and Fridays, increased. Before this year’s hike, I felt ambivalent about taking an entire day off when I had so much to do.
But I wasn’t ambivalent about the importance of those hikes in building my relationship with Danny.
As I considered what I should do, it was as if that still small voice of God, my inner guide said to me, “Just go and enjoy the day.”
It’ll all work out, I told myself. Honor what you know is important.
It was sunny and cold last Tuesday morning when I drove down that country road to the park. We met at 10:15 and took a new trail, knowing that the hurricane in September probably damaged our more familiar path by the Cape Fear River that bordered the park. Since it wasn’t a holiday, there were few hikers. We passed the Superintendent who told us about the extensive damage to the walkways and stairs in the direction we were headed.
Changing our plan, we ended up hiking to an overlook with a spectacular view of the river, one we’d never been to in all our years of hiking. While we were standing there, two men who appeared to be in their thirties, joined us. They were cousins, too and when I said we had a yearly Veteran’s Day hike, one told us he’d served in the Army. When Danny said he’d served in the Navy in the late sixties and had been to many countries in the South Pacific, the other guy told us he was part Filipino. I listened as they shared experiences of towns they’d visted and foods they’d tried, new discoveries for me of Danny’s time in the service.
On my yearly solo journeys, I pray each morning that God will “bless me and the people in my path.” Our conversation with those people in our path in that place of beauty, was a highlight of our walk.
We finished hiking and Danny pulled out his charcoal grill and the food he packed for our lunch. This is always nice for me, being taken care of for a while. All I do is bring a bag of carrots–that’s what he assigns me. I watched him stack the coals, squirt them with lighter fluid, and then fan the coals until they were ashen. Sitting near the grill there was just enough warmth to offset the chill of the breeze and the sun moving further behind the trees. We ate our grilled turkey keilbasa, cornbread, and heated sauerkraut and talked of memories of our favorite Christmas foods at Grandma’s.
Stuffed from our meal, because the grilled cornbread with cheese and poppy seeds was too hard for me to resist, I helped him pack his van then hugged my cousin goodbye. I drove back down that country road feeling satisfied that we’d made it to another Veteran’s Day hike, and thought we should go twice a year since we’re both getting older and once just doesn’t seem often enough.
Later, I listened to an Indie publishing podcast at The Creative Penn from an October show. An Irish author and creative coach, Orna Ross, shared a statement that touched a chord with me:
“The creative process completely relies on rest and play; it is not about endless work.”
That’s right. I needed to spend the day with Danny to honor our relationship, but also to have a day of play. I’d been working hard and I was in danger of my life becoming unbalanced. I remembered my solo journey to Jekyll Island where I felt I’d been drawn to relearn to play. My life had become out of balance back then when I was fifty, and now I was dealing with the same issue at sixty-three: different factors but the same issue.
It seems I keep needing this reminder to balance my work and play. And now my seven-month-old grandson can give me lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays as he discovers the world through play, and bears witness to the benefits with his smile and cackles of laughter.
How about You?
How could you increase your time playing to balance your life?
What are things that you would like to do? Can you schedule those in the week and month ahead?