The past few weeks have been challenging. Like so many people, my spirit is fraught and frustrated by the ugly tumult taking place in Washington yet I can’t look away. More than ever, I find myself searching for glimmers of hope, integrity, possibility.
Waking up to a cloudy October morning, I purposely treated myself to a quiet, restful day, doing my best to tune out the travesty of the Kavanaugh confirmation. I headed first to where I usually turn for rejuvenation and reflection: a morning walk in nature.
While I typically walk in silence to fully savor the sounds around me, this morning I popped in my ear buds to continue listening to an episode of On Being with two of my favorite poets: Padraig O Tuama and Marilyn Nelson. Pure, nourishing soul food….
My father has always been a man of ritual. Such constant structure did not always float my boat as I was growing up, especially as my own little wings began to blossom. Even to this day I work hard to strike a balance between routine and spontaneity, always being highly organized and prepared with a little more flying by the seat of my pants. Some days, for example, I wish I could just “wing it” in my classroom like a few of my teaching colleagues do or hit the road on a Friday afternoon for a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Woodstock. Alas…
One of my dad’s rituals that I still hold dear and practice now that I’m a teacher is taking a long walk on my last day of summer vacation. It feels like yesterday on a late August afternoon, around 4:30 like clockwork, that he would find me wherever I was, galloping around the backyard or lounging on the deck with my nose in a book, to take me on a walk, either around our property a couple of times or up to the park at the top of the hill.
I was a shy kid, an awkward teenager. A quiet introvert through and through, even with my dad, who worked and commuted to and fro the city more than I saw him. To be honest, there were moments in the high school and college years when I sort of wished we could just forgo the whole annual walk thing. I don’t feel like talking today. I barely know this guy. He doesn’t know me, that’s for sure. Maybe I have something better to do at 4:30. And then he would put his arm around my shoulder and start to talk as we walked along…about his own memories of school, the big questions he had struggled to answer, his faith, his parents, his wins, his losses, all the different roads he had walked along. And I gradually realized the thing I have come to cherish, especially in these winter years, when we both know there is a lot less road ahead than there used to be: we’re the same, he and I. He has known me all along.
And so I took my walk this morning in a nearby park to celebrate an amazing summer (albeit ridiculously sweltering) and to reflect upon the year of teaching that awaits me tomorrow morning. A blank slate, a snow-white piece of paper on which to start fresh and anew–perhaps the greatest gift of this vocation. I breathed in the woods, drank in the quiet, spotted a little friend sitting under a tree, walked and walked. And then, though I could imagine Henry David Thoreau and John Muir cringing from the big woods in the sky, I took my iPhone out of my pocket and texted my dad a photo of my morning path.