If I am working into the evening, I try to get out around four or five o’clock for a walk. It’s cheaper than caffeine, and it doesn’t keep me up all night.
So I found myself contemplating our contemplative prayer session to come tonight while walking an unfamiliar path. That was something of a miracle in itself: lately, I’ve been hard pressed to take a new breath, let alone a new path. When I was working the hospital chaplaincy, and I’d come home sad, my spouse would ask if it was the death that did it. No, I told him, death was one thing; life, in its infinite variety, that’s what would do you in.
Anyway so, on a new path, wondering if it would take me under the road with the water, into pastures new. Instead, at the break, it made a sharp turn to the vertical. Lacking the initiative to do otherwise, I followed it.
As I wandered along the top, I contemplated the fact that I had not seen any other trails up from the bottom, which meant none down. The head of the valley was far too far to reach in time for contemplative prayer, and for some reason, going back the way I had come was unthinkable, fearful.
As the road in the valley below kept pace, I meandered past spent fireworks and beer cans, plastic chairs cascading down the cliffside. I reviewed the fact that I was wearing a skirt and proper sandals for a light afternoon stroll, and that the proximity of the parish precluded hitching everything up over my shoulders and sliding down the hill.
I found an opening, and began gingerly, sideways, to inch my way from tree to tree – I think this is how we became tree-huggers – down the hill. I contemplated my imminent embarrassment. After about two-thirds of the descent, I took off my shoes, despite the earlier broken glass and large red spiders, feeling the need to grip the dirt with my toes.
As I reached the last line of trees, I saw across the divide another woman of a certain age, wearing a pretty blue dress and proper shoes, walking on the all-purpose tarmac trail, and I felt such kinship that I wanted to hug her and douse her with my elation, but it seemed unfair to frighten the poor thing.
Smiling foolishly, I made my way across the valley floor towards my little red car and reality. Little had changed. Except that as I left the path for the sunlight, my eye fell upon a little heart of stone. A little dirty, and not quite as perfectly shaped as it first appeared, it was, I thought, a start.