Reality Check

It was a nice afternoon yesterday. We haven’t had many of those and I took advantage of the sun to go for a walk in the quarry across from my house.

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I have missed walking in there quarry. It used to be part of my regular routine. But after my cancer diagnosis last summer, and the surgery in the fall, and the recovery into the winter, and then the coronavirus, I have hardly walked it at all.

I like to walk it regularly. There’s an array of wildflowers and plants and small trees there. Some of them are small and low lying, what you would expect when roots have to burrow through layer after layer of slate instead of soil. A few of them are surprisingly tall, the deep tap roots of the pine trees somehow finding their way down into the grey stone, or the widespread roots of birch trees clinging to the mountainous piles of discarded slate.

This year, the pines all look as if they have new growth. That is unusual. Normally pines are typical evergreens and the color hardly changes throughout the year. But they were a strange spring green, as if the needles were new leaves.

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One of the things I love walking the quarry, is watching the progression of wildflowers through the spring, summer and fall. Walk up the slate hills ever week, and every week you will find a new batch of flowers blooming, and last week’s flowers fading. For some reason the flowers are late this season, with only the first tentative dandelions making an appearance. That means, despite a late start in my quarry walks, I will get to see the full progression of flowers. I won’t miss a thing.

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The walk turned out to be something of a reality check. To all appearances, I am fully recovered from my surgery. I have gained most of the weight back. My doctor reports are great. I pretty much move and walk and look just like I did a year ago.

But endurance, my sister the doctor has told me all along, is the last thing to come back and walking up the quarry yesterday, I could tell. I was huffing and puffing before I hit the first good stopping point. Part of that is likely recovery from surgery, and part of the breathing issues and (most likely) coronavirus I dealt with a couple of months ago. I was breathing like a man ten years my senior.

There’s obviously work to do once the weather gets warm.

I sat a few minutes before continuing my walk, finally reaching one of my favorite spots where I can sit and look over my little town of West Pawlet, to the farms beyond.

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I found a large slab of slate to sit on and bask in the sun, letting my breathing slow down and to simply think a while.

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You would think, in this time of self quarrantine, there would be a lot of time to simply contemplate. But somehow that has not proved to be the case. I have found myself busy, in different ways than before the quarrantine, but busy none the less. And with my wife and I both working out of the house, there’s not the alone time you might imagine. In fact, I often go to my art studio in the morning so I can write and talk with my clients privately.

But there has not been the time to simply stop, think, and feel.  And I am someone who values that kind of time. It refuels me and keeps me oriented and grounded.

I lay down on my rock, and let the sun seep in. I meditated for a time, and then let my thoughts flow with no restrictions or guidance. I stared at the sky. As the sun warmed me, I shed my jacket and my stocking cap. and looked up.

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In the beginning, it was sort of a time of mourning. I’ve had an easier time than most these past few months. The probable coronavirus case I had a few months ago was short and relatively mild. I have work to do. If my income is less than it was a few months ago, so are my expenses. I am fine. We have enough. Breathing has been an issue, a strain for some time, but a couple rounds of pregnesone and I am better.

I miss my work. I still pastor, even if church services are done on line with Zoom instead of in the beautiful little sanctuary we normally worship in. I still check in with my prisoners.  My coaching and consulting clients have dried up. Everyone is worried about money right now and with good reason. And I miss my Hospice patients. I worry about them.

I was not sure I would like hospice work. I never thought of myself doing it. But nearly two years in now, and I find I love the work. I love the people and families I serve. I love the company I work with, and the people there. I am on furlough, due mostly to my health, and it’s been more than a couple of months since I have seen any of my patients. I worry for them every day. I pray for them every day,. But it’s like not being able to see my family, and being concerned for them. I mourn their presence in my life. And my ability to serve them.

I mourn my diner. Not just being there most mornings to write, but the flow of people, neighbors and travelers that I meet there. I miss the conversations. I worry about the couple that runs it. How long can they survive without income? I worry about my neighbors, all home from work they need.

But mourning is a process, and if my thoughts began with mourning, it transformed into gratitude. I survived my cancer and if I am not as strong yet as I would like, I am alive and so far, cancer-free. Assuming what I had a few months ago was the virus (I had all the symptoms, but there was no testing available at the time.), I got through it. It was a light case.

I hate quarantine, but we’re OK. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Marrying the woman I love three years ago, taking a chance on a second marriage, was a good thing. I can’t imagine anyone else I could be quarantined with and be as happy with a few months later as her. That is a blessing.

I hate quarantine, but I like that I have learned a lot of things while being in it. I take in a webinar on something almost every day. I’ve learned about new technologies, theology, and a host of other things. I am probably not just smarter for the experience, but my mind is more nimble for feeding my brain all this new stuff. I’ve had to add zoom to my arsenal of skills and it’s been fun. Last week at church, we actually had more people, visitors and members at worship, than we have during sanctuary services. You figure.

I hate worrying about my three kids, but the truth is, they are all doing well through this. Their work has translated to on-line far easier than most. They are safe and healthy.

And that was the turn my mind took, finally, as my breath slowed down and the sun seeped deep into my bones, I just let myself feel. No thought. Just emotion. A mixed bag, but all of them raw and real and released.

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It’s not often we can be raw and naked with our feelings. We are doers, we humans. We worry about what people think. Tears and laughter in the wrong place are looked down upon. It’s a luxury to let both flow without any brakes or social morays to worry about, and to let yourself be emptied, and finally, totally, be renewed.

It was even worth wheezing my way to the summit for.

But mountain top experiences never last. It was time to head home. As I got up, I noticed a flowering tree nearby.

9_resizeI am not sure what it was exactly. Native to the area probably know. In a way, it reminded me of the dogwoods back home in Virginia. I went over to look at the flowers. There were bees all around it, buzzing and happily gathering early season pollen. I sniffed. The flowers had hardly any smell.

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I walked back the way I had come. Down the paths to the town. The afternoon sun was still warm. The peace of emptiness was strong. Nothing had meaning. Nothing had lessons. Nothing had responsibility or work attached to it. It just was. I just was. It was a feeling of lightness, and lightness is rare in these times. I savored the white birch trees against the gray slate. and made my way home.

There was work to do. And I was ready. Renewed. And grateful.

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Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

 

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