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

Where We Love Is Home

Where we love is home… home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts…The chain may lengthen, but it never parts!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The Little House by Virginia Burton

I love my old house.

The center structure was built in 1810. Veterans of the Revolutionary War must have walked through her doors. She heard the first cars rattle past and listened to the bells on horse drawn sleighs moving past in the winter. A rather unassuming little house she has stood as a silent witness through two centuries of sunshine, rain, and snow.

The first owners and builders came from Scotland. The laid-up stone and granite foundation are a testament to their skills and artistry. Above my head I can see the cut-marks made two hundred years ago by an unknown craftsman as he took his adz and skillfully shaped once sturdy trees into the straight, sharp-edged, hand hewn beams that span the width of the room. In some places in the house evidence of the original paint remains…blue, red, and ocher. The wide boards lining the stairway are a silent reminder of the enormous trees that stood with outstretched limbs collecting the sun’s energy on long forgotten summer days. The village records report…although there is serious debate about the accuracy…that one hundred years ago, the room in which I sleep was a corn crib and more recently a kitchen.

My House on Cassie Street

I often think about all the people who have lived here, loved here, laughed and cried here, and yes, died here too. The previous owner recently shared that he and I are merely caretakers. “This house will be standing long after we are gone,” he said. But it was here we made a life, we made memories, and we, too, became a part of her story.

Both of my granddaughters took their early steps in this house. There were weddings, family reunions, card games, carol sings. book discussions, talks that went late into the night, lots of laughter…side splitting laughter…and plenty of tears too under this roof.

My grandchildren decorated Christmas cookies and dyed Easter Eggs at the kitchen table, played with puzzles and games on the floor, and watched episodes of Curious George from the living room couch and when I listen, I can still hear the voice of my mother and the heavy footfalls of my husband echoing within these walls as well. Leaving this old girl isn’t going to be easy.

Several years ago, I spent time with friends in a rental house near Booth Bay, Maine. One day we paddled our kayaks to a small nearby island where we stopped for lunch and to hike the short trail through the woods. I’m much slower than my friends, so within a few moments I’m pretty much by myself. I rather enjoy going at my own sauntering pace. On that particular hike I was surprised and delighted to find near the edge of the trail a rather crude little fairy house created from the moss, twigs, and smooth round pebbles. It was enchanting. I stood for a while smiling and imagining the creation of this wee abode.

When I was growing up, the kids in the neighborhood spent hours creating houses and forts…communities really…in the grass of the nearby fields and vacant lots. We’d flatten the tall grass into silken little nests that would be our own special, private place. My favorite was on an incline with a slight dip that just fitted me perfectly. Even as children, we are drawn to building and creating houses, hideouts, and sanctuaries…a place of our own…our regular pew, and like Sheldon, on The Big Bang…our spot.

“We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” 

Ari Berk, Death Watch

By a curious coincidence, a week before I put my house on the market…the last house that Dave and I bought together…the first house that we bought was also listed for sale. Feeling slightly voyeuristic, I clicked through the picture on Zillow. In the more than three decades many changes had taken place. My cheery yellow kitchen was now a teal blue and the hanging light fixture that Dave insisted we leave had been replaced by two modern ones. Parts of the house were unmistakable and others I hardly recognized.

Our First House
Carson City, Michigan

That house ceased to be ours a very long time ago and yet the home we had created there was still very much with me. I laughed when I recalled the afternoon we experimented with one of the first microwave ovens in town. “Let’s see what happens if we put this in there?” I had forgotten the built in oven, but seeing it reminded me of the morning-after surprise…we were much younger…when I opened the oven to discover that someone at our party had filled it completely with empty beer cans. I remembered hayrides, pool parties, and the time Dave brought the fire truck home to get it ready for an upcoming parade only to back the ladder through our garage door. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked incredulously. “I did,” I replied while cracking up with laughter.” “You couldn’t hear me, because you were running the siren!” What little boy hasn’t dreamed of driving a firetruck and engaging the siren? The door got fixed, but the story lives on.

“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,”

Edgar A Guest Home

Edgar A Guest, was the poet laureate of Michigan in the 1950s and my mom was a big fan. I can still hear the first line of his poem “Home” in my mother’s voice. With his words she taught me that a house is just a building, it only becomes a home by the living that happens within it.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 

Edgar A Guest Home

We may leave many houses over our lifetime, but if we’re lucky the homes we create within them will go with us wherever we are. We leave our mark on the places we live with paint, nails, and adz, but the echo of our laughter, the roadmap of our tears, and the hope, joy, and wonder of simply living our lives also remains. We leave a bit of ourselves, but we take the very best parts…our memories…with us when we close that door for the final time and hand the key to the next caretaker.

Jump!

“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying in the same place your entire life.” —

Oscar Isaacs as Abel Morales in A Most Violent Year

While walking through the park the other day I watched a group of little girls running along the top for five picnic tables which had been arranged in a long straight row. The elevation of the tables provided added excitement and the girls giggled with the sheer delight as they dashed from one end to the other and back again. As I got a little closer, I noticed that there were two little girls standing at the end of the last table in line. A girl in a pink and white sundress stood on the ground while her friend remained at the edge looking down at the ground. “Jump. Jump,” the one in pink implored, but her friend hesitated. I wanted to stop and ask the one considering the jump what she was thinking. What was she weighing in her little mind? Was it the distance from table to grass? Was it the fear of a hard landing? Was it peer pressure that caused her to consider jumping in the first place? I walked on while the hesitation and the cajoling continued, but I’ve thought a lot about those barefoot girls in their summer dresses.

Summer Morning
Star Island, 2019

About fifteen years ago my sister, Kelly, invited me to join a group of women on a white water rafting trip down the Gauley River in West Virginia. The morning of the promised adventure the eight of us, in various sizes, colors, ages, and levels of fitness and only loosely connected by a shared relationship to my sister, climbed into the raft together.

The first test came when our guide, young Captain Mike, who at that time was still under the impression that he was in control of a boatload of middle aged women, informed us that we were approaching Jump Rock. “This is Jump-Rock,” he said in his most authoritative voice. “It’s not Climb-Up-There-and-Decide-Rock. Once you’re out of the raft there’s only one way back in. You have to jump.”

I’m usually pretty timid about such things and I hate heights, but as I gazed up at the cliff face I suspected that the tenor of our entire adventure hinged on this decision. I was going to climb up there and jump. When the others who were hesitating saw me…old, chubby, and out of shape…preparing to make the trek up rocky path to the top they too gathered their courage and we all jumped off that rock.

She took a leap of faith and grew her wings on the way down. 

David Brinkley

I suppose you could call my jump…holding my nose, my eyes squeezed shut, and yelling all the way down…a minor leap of faith. I’d watched others do it before me. I was confident in what lay ahead. I knew that eventually I’d hit the icy water, sink momentarily beneath the surface and then pop up gasping for air and, I imagined, feeling exalted. It took a fair amount of courage on my part to move from tera firma, but in doing so I was given the wings of self-confidence, fearlessness, and moxie. From that point on we were bonded; we were invincible! That day was one of my peak life experiences. I sometimes wonder, would that have been the case if I’d remained in the raft and merely watched?

White Water Rafting
Pixabay Photo

Often of late, I find myself standing at the edge of what feels solid and comfortable contemplating whether to jump or not. The loss of my partner has also meant I’ve lost a part of who I am or at least who I was when I was part of a team. I am trying to discover, create, or at least identify who am becoming. That journey involves risk and taking chances. Sometimes the metaphorical jump is just a matter of going to the movies by myself, walking into a restaurant and asking for a table for one, or checking into a hotel and only needing a single key. Do I jump or do I stay in the boat?

A Soft Day in Scotland, 2014

On a trip to Scotland in 2014, Cousin Doug, coaxed and teased me into taking a short hike up a. steeper than I’d like, hillside to see one of Rob Roy’s hideouts. I wasn’t planning to hike that day and was ill prepared, without proper footwear, or my hiking poles. Then it began to drizzle. it was Scotland after all. I was soon wet, tired and the trail had turned to mud. Oh, the evils of peer pressure!

I finally convinced Doug that I was in beyond my skill level and needed to turn back. Taking a different…supposedly shorter…return route we came to a very small stream…a trickle really…that Doug hopped over effortlessly.

“Jump,” he said. “You can do it.”

“No, I can’t,” I replied.

“Sure you can. Just jump.”

“Jump into the middle of things, get your hands dirty, fall flat on your face, and then reach of the stars.”

Ben Stein

Moments later I lifted my head from the mud where I had landed face first, to see my sweet cousin convulsed with laughter.

Life presents us all with choices. Do we stay with what we know or do we take a risk and discover something new? Do we jump and learn to fly or are we content to hang onto the branch for a while and enjoy the way it sways gently in the breeze ?

“The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they had jumped” 

Lauren Oliver, Liesl and Po

The real leap of faith is learning to trust ourselves to know when it’s right to step off and when we need to stand firm. It’s perfectly fine to wait on the edge, contemplate, and step back for a while or to decide not to jump at all. No one is ever forced to climb Jump Rock and we can always just wade through the stream or we simply slide off end of the picnic table. Then again…flying is pretty cool and if you get a face-full of mud it makes a good story.

Jump or not…the choice is ours.