One Foot in Front of the Other

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin

Several years ago, my granddaughter and I took a short hike toward a promised overlook. It was obvious that she was really not enjoying this adventure. Her foot hurt, she was tired, and she wanted to turn around. The ‘beware of bears’ sign didn’t help either. We stepped off the wooded trail to rest on a large boulder while we considered what we would do. In this small clearing, the sun’s rays shone down upon us, no longer filtered through the leafy overhang. We could hear the rush of a small stream as it played amongst the pebbles on its way to the sea and wildflowers were peeking through the scrub in their dresses of white and blue and yellow and orange. It was just a brief moment of light in the forest. After this short respite, we stepped back onto the path, into the shadows, and beneath the umbrella of leaves.

Glacier National Park

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

C.S. Lewis

Grief is like that too. As I hike the trail through this valley, the trees open up more frequently to moments of light and flowers and joy, but without warning, I look around and find myself once again in the gloom of thick underbrush and beneath branches that block the sun. Even so, if I keep myself open, grief continues to teach me her lessons. Fear, courage, and bravery are on the first page of her syllabus. It takes a certain amount of daring to face the disorientation and uncertainty of life after a loss. Nothing is as it once was and it’s difficult to find your bearings. To live without equilibrium takes strength, faith, and fortitude.

Grief is also about becoming untethered. It’s about losing an identity. Losing a map and compass all at once – a way to orient our life.

Samantha Smithstien

“You’re so strong and brave,” people told my friend at the death of her second husband. “I’m not brave or strong,” she replied. ” I just get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.”

Each day we make the choice whether to pull up our big-kid pants, put our feet on the ground, and take those steps forward…or not. Often, we’re doing well to sit on the edge of the bed and just think about moving and there are days when even that is a stretch. But, with courage, hope, and a great deal of bravery eventually, we shuffle our feet and move to the music of life.

One Foot In Front of the Other and Lead with Love

I decided that this year one of my goals is to consciously work on being brave. “Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, ” I chant to myself throughout the day hoping that at some point it will become internalized and I can change this admonition into an affirmation. “You are brave! You are brave! You are brave!”

For me, being brave means moving forward not necessarily with confidence, but with faith. It is the belief that scrambling over the obstacles life puts in our path will make the next hill a little easier to climb. Being brave acknowledges that we’re all going to stumble, fall, and skin our knees. It also gives us the resilience not to let those set-backs put a halt to our progress. Being brave allows us to laugh at ourselves when we trip and land spread eagle on the ground, our glasses askew, and those big-kid pants on display for the world to see. Bravery reminds us we just need to get back up.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

On my December trip to Vermont as darkness fell and after hours of driving, I accidentally turned off the road I knew, the road I meant to be on, and started down an unplanned route. In that instant with a single right turn, I was facing my top three fears…being alone, being somewhere unfamiliar, and making an error in judgment. The disembodied voice from my GPS assured me that I could indeed go forward on the new road and that it would lead me to my destination. Since I had never approached my destination from this direction I thought perhaps the GPS knew a better way. She didn’t. Following her instructions, I found myself in upstate New York, on the wrong side of Lake Champlain. She’s taking me to a bridge, I thought. She wasn’t. At 10:30 on a Wednesday night, I found myself at the ferry dock which had been closed for hours. I was on the wrong side of the lake, I didn’t know where exactly I was, I had no idea how to find the bridge, I was tired, and it was beginning to snow. In all honesty, it was scary.

Seyon State Park, Vermont
New Year’s Eve, 2019

Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

With help, via cellphone from my son; after figuring out how to override the GPS that kept trying to take me back to the ferry; and with a great deal of positive self-talk as I drove twisty, snow-covered and deserted back roads I eventually found my way to the bridge and familiar roads in Vermont. I was disgusted with myself for not simply returning to my regular route after making the wrong turn and yet, facing my fears and solving the challenge of the situation was exhilarating and empowering. Half of being brave is just breathing and taking that next step.

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be brave. Be brave. Be brave.” Yes, this is my mission for the year. I was never courageous enough to climb the huge pine tree with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. I missed seeing the world from that lofty vantage point. What else will I miss if I don’t dare to live my life as it is, even if it is still a little out of sync? I’m learning to be brave, so I’m pullin’ ’em up and I’m steppin’ out.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Rainer Maria Rilke with

If You’re a Worm…Sleep Late

The Virtual Jar

As the end of the year approaches and thoughts of the New Year are slipping into our consciousness a simple suggestion begins to pop up on social media. Write your gratitudes on a slip of paper at the end of each day. Put the slip into a glass jar and a year from now you’ll have 365 reminders of the many blessings that you have enjoyed during the year. I immediately liked this idea when I first read about it several years ago, but being in possession of assorted diaries that are blank beyond February, I was aware of limitations…I’m not always that good at follow through. “What if I had friends willing to undertake this idea with me?” I wondered.

And so it was that in January 2014, fifteen Facebook friends, whose only connection to each other was their relationship to me, committed to one year of sharing blessings, joys, and happy surprises with each other in a secret online group. We called it The Virtual Jar. We filled the jar…the virtual jar…with the description of small joys, pleasures, and wonders as well as photos, memes, poems, and paragraphs about the large events in our lives as well. The group commitment kept us all involved and at the end of the year we were indeed able to all look back on the blessings and gifts in our lives. Sharing the riches of our lives, was uplifting and encouraging, but the added bonus of this exercise was listening as these women reframed misfortunes, disappointments and sorrows into a positives worthy of gratitude. By their example I discovered that on the days it’s a challenge to find something to smile about simply changing your point of view could make all the difference.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective in the past few months as I went through the process of moving from Vermont to Michigan. Many of my friends…in Michigan and Vermont…knew of my decision, but of course nothing is totally official until it has been posted on Facebook. When I finally made my plans public the juxtaposition of the comments made by my two groups of friends was quite humorous. My Vermont friends left messages of shock and sadness, while my Michigan friends left messages…in the same thread, I might add…of surprise and delight. The same facts, but the reaction was totally based on perspective.

Change Your Perspective

One November, decades ago while Dave was in the UP…Upper Peninsula…of Michigan deer hunting, I came home from shopping to discover that my electric blanket had been smoldering all day and my mattress, while not yet in flames, was also slowly burning. I called my friend and asked if her husband was home. “Yes”, she drawled. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” I replied, “Could he come down and help me? My mattress is on fire.”

Yes, I know the situation left the door open for all kinds of joke telling…husband away…hot mattress and all…but at the time I was just concerned about getting the bedding out of the house. I also know I should have called the fire department, but…like I said…I just wanted that hot mess out the door. Of course, once the smoldering fabric hit the oxygen of the outside air, flames erupted and it made quite the sight out on the lawn until we doused the blaze.

The next day at work my friend said, “Boy, you were really lucky.”

“Well…I was thinking that if I were really lucky the fire wouldn’t have started at all.”

“But you are lucky,” she said. “You are very lucky that you have a house that could have burned down. Not everyone has a house that they could lose. You do.”

I’ve often thought about that logic and being prompted to look at the situation from another vantage point.

My sister and her husband live on the Muskegon River. Shortly after carpenters had completed a project installing new gutters on the front of their house a large tree fell onto the roof, taking a large chunk out of the brand new gutters. When they surveyed the damage they noticed that although the roof and the gutters would have to be repaired…again…without the tree blocking their view they were suddenly able to see the beauty of the river much more clearly. Like the 17th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide, who wrote: “Barn’s burnt down –now I can see the moon,” they were literally given a new way of seeing, but more than that, in the case of the poet and also in my sister’s case, looking at the entire situation in the less obvious way gave them a new perspective. Instead of lamenting what was lost they rejoiced at what was newly discovered. Well…at least until they get the bill for the gutters.

Changing the way we look at things can be healing and helpful. Leaving Vermont was like suffering another loss; another grief. I mourned as the Green Mountains of Vermont gave way to the plains of Ontario. For more than four hundred miles I was leaving a place and people I love until suddenly, just as anticipated, my perspective changed. I was no longer sadly leaving Vermont I was arriving in Michigan with a sense of excitement, adventure and looking forward to being with other people I love.

I-89 North of Montpelier

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

When my son was young we took him to the eye doctor. After the exam, the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with this boy’s eyes.”

“But his teacher said he can’t see the board,” I exclaimed in a puzzled voice.

“That’s ’cause Bruce’s head is in the way.”

As far as I know, the ability to change how we think about something is a uniquely human experience. For the most part, we can control where we stand to watch the sunset. We can choose where we sit to gaze at the stars. If Bruce’s head is in the way…just move our desk.

Sunset on Simon Pond, Tupper Lake, NY ADK

Peacemaking, acceptance, understanding and compassion are also the result of a change of perspective. Looking through another’s window might help to explain the way they see the world. We might not agree on what we see, but it is a beginning. At least we’d be looking.

It’s all just a matter of perspective.

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird–
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”

Shel Silverstein, Early Bird, Where the Sidewalk Ends