Something felt very different about today; I sensed a pivot point of sorts – or what feels like the definitive end of a season.
Or maybe it was just that it was a day filled with good things, including a new recipe for a homemade apple pie.
Or perhaps it was something more.
We’ve had an unseasonably warm November here, with days that felt more like late summer or early spring. The juxtaposition of good weather with fiery fall color has made for a vibrant, full few weeks.
But I’ve looked ahead, and the weather that awaits is more the norm. Cooler evenings await, and no more of this 70 degree stuff during the day, beginning tomorrow. The world – at least my world – is changing and settling into a new season.
I slept in a bit, and then focused on typical Saturday household chores: Laundry, changing sheets, turning the mattress, tidying up. I ran a few errands and added in time for a long walk at a familiar park close to the river.
I’ve been very inactive since August, and it felt good to move my body again. A mile felt easy, and I felt the urge to head to the car, finish my list, and get back home…
…but I kept walking.
My mind had been racing throughout that first mile, pulsing in rhythm with an original song that our team is workshopping for the new album we’re recording. The first two lines kept repeating in my head, over and over.
You are my hiding place / in dark and lonely times I call your name
At about 35 minutes into my walk, things shifted. The song in my head stopped, and the somewhat frantic pulse that had been driving every step faded into the background.
And – just like that – I was present.
I heard the birds and the scattered motion of the squirrels racing from tree to tree. I inhaled the deep, musty fragrance of fallen, wet leaves. I smiled and said, “Hello!” as people passed – walking dogs, out with their kids, carrying kayaks. An older couple – which, at my age, means they appeared to be older than me (I’m guessing mid-80’s?) carefully and precisely stepping over the roots and rocks on the path, clutching one another’s arms. The gentleman wobbled unsteadily as I walked by – but they continued on their way, slowly. Carefully.
This was the same park I visited in September, hosting 25 people for an outdoor retreat. It wasn’t hard to remember the impact of that space and time. What I found more surprising was how long it took for me to remember myself.
Thirty-five minutes in, I was finally settled and aware and present, and reaping the full benefits of a long walk.
After my dad died, and throughout the grieving process with others who have lost loved ones recently, I have heard this phrase repeated:
It takes as long as as it takes.
During my spiritual formation classes, one of the facilitators reminded us – quite often:
Do what you can, not what you can’t.
Both of those mantras came to mind as I walked today; the first, especially, reminding me that seeking solace, presence, and an escape from the ongoing demands of the day (and the week…and the month…) takes as long as it takes. Don’t abandon the process; let it do its work. It took 35 minutes, but I was there, and as I continued to walk, my soul filled with the good things that come with being present to nature, to the natural power and beauty of a river, to the cheerful greetings of fellow humans, to God.
I’m reminded of just how much better I feel when I move my body, and I had a conversation with myself about the reality of a schedule that – no matter how packed a day might be – still includes an available hour for movement. It’s easier to sit on the couch, or take a nap, or scroll mindlessly – and sometimes that disengagement is necessary. But I can do this, now; today, and tomorrow, and in the days to come. I can do what I can.
Last fall, after my dad died, I spent some time in the woods at Powhatan State Park. I cried there, really cried, for the first time since he died. Crossing the threshold of the meadow into the woods, the tears came hot and heavy.
Words came, too; I talked, aloud (grateful that nobody else was in the vicinity!) It was a strange sort of conversation – I directed my words to God, in an anguished, honest lament.
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;Psalm 34
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
And I talked to my dad, still so filled with a sense of his physical presence in this world that it seemed logical that he could hear me. For some, perhaps this doesn’t fold well into theology, but I choose to believe that this prompting was love, seeking its object: The man who raised me and called me ‘daughter.’
It was a sacred space for me, those woods; talking to God, crying hot, honest tears, and talking to my daddy.
“I miss you. Dad, I just miss you. I ‘m so sorry you’re gone…”
I was reminded today of that moment, because last year, as I said those words, a large, dry, brittle oak leaf fell out of nowhere and landed directly in front of me. I believe we are comforted in our grief, and I received that gift of nature as something from a realm into which I cannot see; one from which my dad was as close as the leaf in front of my feet. It was “God right there,” and I caught my breath, indeed. I turned my face to the sky and said, I see you. I see you. The tears continued, but I felt seen, and safe, and known. I am still not sure as to what happens when we breathe our last in this world – by which I mean I don’t know what heaven is like, exactly – who does? None of us have been and returned.
But I believe caught a glimpse of energy passing beyond the veil in that moment, and it was powerful.
I choose to believe this; it draws me closer to the supernatural nature of Jesus, of a God that is always more than we understand him to be. In my grief, a leaf dropped from the sky, and it meant something to me that brought healing and comfort and an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude.
Today, as I moved past the first 35 minutes of a rushed ramble into an intentional, deliberate awareness of presence, a witness of myself and to myself in that space, walking alongside the river, a leaf fell.
Right in front of me, insisting that I notice.
That I pay attention.
And I thought of my dad.
Autumn leaves fall; it’s what they do. There’s nothing mystical about a leaf falling. I know not to read too much into things like this; God is present to us in multiple ways. Do I need to believe that leaves dropping in front of me are messages from beyond?
But I’ll tell you this; I got home and thought about this for a while, mulling over what felt like a day of closure and a turn towards a new season. I mulled it over and even went to bed, but got back up, sleepless, because I had to write, and I had to check a date.
Thanks to the way my photos are stored, I quickly found the one I was looking for.
Powhatan State Park, exactly one year ago today.
Today is a pivot point. My body knew it; my soul knew it, and the Spirit of God nudged me out of bed to see it, because I had no conscious awareness.
And that is a thing, is it not? I knew it had been a year, even though I didn’t know.
What does it mean?
Nothing, and everything. A year ago today, I took a long walk. A leaf fell in front of me.
Today, I took a long walk. A leaf fell in front of me.
There are some days devoid of enchantment.
This was not one of them.