“This is the place of all our firsts,” she said. We sat on a concrete bench just off the trail. Runners and dog walkers passed. Professors and students stretched their legs and cleared their minds in the middle of a Tuesday.
Two babies slept in the two strollers, one on either side of us. My oldest daughter climbed rocks in her natural fearless way. Jumping and pouncing, so free and unaware of the high chance of smashing her head into the jagged stones and or slipping into the water. Tragedy never came, but there were close calls. Always close calls. She laughs in the face of those. She ran through the leaves of last year, hunting the largest rocks to drop from the little stone bridge. Sometimes a heavy one splashed her face and she giggled. To say “don’t get wet or messy” is a waste of words, so instead, I suggest that her feet not get too wet because we didn’t have other shoes. Her clothes were already a little dirty, since we got dressed in the dark. To be honest, there is always a bit of dirt somewhere on my Harper girl, smudged on her face or knees, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve decided that I have more to live for than spotless children.
A reddish-brown hawk landed on a light post, clenching its lunch. On the menu was mouse, all the way dead. We stopped to watch. Its wings were spotted black and white.
The air was cool and an early spring grey lingered. Our feet were slightly chilled, because we had dressed optimistically rather than practically. The woods were not yet green, clinging to the hues of last season. The little brook trickled over the rocks and rippled as breezes swept through the clearing.
Next week, my friend and her little family sets off on a new adventure. Here in the richness of these hours, we talked about this place. I happen to know a few things about moves and new adventures, I’m rather fond of that genre. To reflect on the way that leaving brings a great understanding of what a place has been is a beautiful thing. Chapters close. Stories advance. It’s not a finality that comes with the end, as all the ends of our days just bleed into a new beginning, until the very great end which will lead into the greatest eternal. So, what is the end really, but a small word we use to make sense of that which we attempt to define.
We paused as the runners ran and walkers walked, as another rock splashed in the water, and the babies snored. Little feet stuck out from blankets. Having faced similar experiences in this season, we celebrated how we were eternally grateful for the lessons and growth, because we would never be who we are today without those obstacles.
Sometimes, we take roads less travelled and not because we’re more amazing, it’s simply because not everyone needs to take the same path. On my journey, I won’t face the same troubles as you may, but there will be times when our ways cross and then we will lift each other off the ground, shake the dust and continue onward. My greatest trials may wear a different mask, but bravery and hope are the same within us all. We are shaped and refined. We contribute what we have and who we are, which is always enough.
The ones who stay and build. The ones who risk and question everything. The ones who float about with no place to belong. The ones who encounter new lands and claim them as home. Home, belonging, mission, and purpose may sound different to us all, but bravery and hope are written in all our stories. We must recognize them in our own lives. We compliment each other. We need not conform.
On most days, I question what everything means and what happens next, not out of discontentment, but because I will forever be paying student loans for that English degree. Give me a good book and I will happily praise the most beautiful words and draw out themes and meaning. How does this character grow in light of their challenges? How does this experience shape the story? I don’t just want to read a story, I want to explore it and understand each part. I’m not into the casual, light read that is tossed aside and forgotten. I suppose that’s also how I want to live too, always with meaning and connection.
Here amidst the towering trees so bare and exposed by winter, we rested in the beauty of truly being understood by each other, in the comfort of friendship, hearts and souls safely unveiled and vulnerable. We speculated and dreamed about what lies ahead, naively though, because how can we know. I won’t pretend I do.
Over warm coffee and a bag of cookies pulled out of nowhere, we celebrated the closing of this first chapter for my friend. As we walked back to our cars, the sun sliced through the thick blanket of grey that had lingered all morning.
In a story, we call that foreshadowing.