“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ” –Lin Yutang
One of the first things I did when I moved to my new state this summer was look for a quiet place to walk. You may recall that I had a hilly, serene area near my last home where I walked daily for the six years that I lived there. Many powerful epiphanies occurred to me on that stretch of tarmac where cars seldom passed. I had a feeling that finding a place where my legs could grow tired as my spirit came alive might be challenging here in my new, much bigger city. My suspicions were right.
On my first outing, I quickly realized it would be necessary for me to leave my neighborhood if I wanted a substantial walk. Upon exiting my subdivision I was greeted by a heavily traveled roadway that was intimidating, to say the least. There would be no daydreaming here, no getting lost in my own thoughts. This bustling thoroughfare screamed, “Pay attention or you might get hurt!”
I took a deep breath and forged ahead, hugging the outer edge of the sidewalk farthest from the busy road. With every Nissan and Chevrolet that barreled past, my hair blew back from my face and hot air hugged my legs. I kept my head down and walked briskly, pausing briefly to notice the historic cemetery on my right. I’m pretty sure I would have felt sad (or a little creeped out) if I hadn’t been so focused on finding a peaceful place to continue my walk.
As soon as I got past the cemetery, I saw what I was looking for: an established neighborhood canopied by lush trees and not a moving vehicle in sight. I immediately turned right and walked the shady maze of side streets and cul-de-sacs for an hour. When it was time to return home, I resisted the urge to walk past the cemetery at a quickened pace. Instead I noticed the names and dates of those who lived over a century ago.
This has been my routine for several weeks now. Upon exiting my neighborhood, I stop and contemplate my choices. I could turn left and then take another quick left or a right. I could even go straight. But in the end, I always turn right. I look ahead to see the flags of the cemetery waving me forth. It brings me comfort to know exactly what three last names will be the first to greet me. Barnes, Brooks, and Settle are always there waiting like faithful supporters along a race route. This familiarity assures my directionally-challenged self that I am not lost. The tree-covered neighborhood where you like to walk is coming up, the tombstones say. You’ve been here before, they say.
I am not giving myself a hard time about this severe lack of adventure on my walking route. You see, each day I learn something new. I learn new grocery store isles and post office locations. I learn new state procedures like emission checks and school immunization requirements. I learn how people drive faster and speak faster here. I learn there are stoplights on the interstate, and I can be ticketed if I go before it is my turn to merge. I learn where light switches and thermostats are located along dark hallways. I learn names of neighbors, their children, and their pets. Moving to a new place means your brain is constantly learning new things all day long. So when I have the opportunity to lace up my running shoes, I go where my feet take me—a right turn out of the neighborhood into the bustling traffic, past the cemetery to the tree-covered sanctuary. It is where I walk the same loop over and over, jotting my thoughts in my tiny notebook the way I did before I moved. Yesterday I thought to look at the name of that shaded street that takes me away from the noisy rush. It is called Grace Woods. That is not a coincidence to me.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed some patterns going on in our new house too. My older daughter recites the same prayer at dinner. Where there once were creative modifications depending on the day, there is now a memorized hymn. Thanks for the day, the world, the food, the family. It always ends with family.
I’ve also noticed my younger daughter is keen on wearing the same shirt every single day. “America is beautiful” is not just for the 4th of July as I had intended. That navy shirt with shiny gold lettering is for every single day she wakes up and looks for something to wear. America is Beautiful is her summer uniform and her summer anthem.
Even Banjo the cat has rejected sleeping wherever his mood takes him. Since the move, he can be found religiously under the winter section of my closet. His tail curled tightly around him beneath the sleeves of my favorite sweater.
As much as I am tempted to ask my daughters to change it up on the prayer or select a new shirt, I know this is not the time. When so much is new, there is need for familiarity … sameness … permanence. I guess that is why I am finding great comfort in gravestones that would normally make me feel sad.
The tombstones I walk by have been there for hundreds of years. I do not know these people, but someone does. They come and leave flowers and stuffed animals. They come and remember. They remember the way she hugged and didn’t let go first. They remember the way she laughed at bad jokes just to make the joke-teller feel good. They remember how he claimed a daily bowl of oatmeal grew hair on your chest and hot dogs were the best bait for catching catfish. And now the people who remember do these things too. They hug long, laugh hard, and fish with hot dogs because it makes their dearly departed feel near.
When I walk by Brooks, Barns, and Settle, I imagine what rituals, habits, and words live on in those who loved them. As the traffic blows by, adamantly refusing to slow down for a nameless pedestrian, those thoughts comfort me. Because nowadays there is little permanence. Messages disappear with the push of a button … handwritten notes are obsolete … sustained eye contact is a rarity. I seldom see lipstick marks on people’s cheeks anymore. But there’s a graveyard flanked by a stream of busy people going to important places that offers me hope. Through loving rituals we are able to create the kind of permanence that becomes the cornerstone of a life, a GPS for a world in which we are so easily lost.
The other day my younger daughter and I were walking the small loop in our neighborhood when I offered to show her the graveyard.
“Are some of the graves from Little House on the Prairie days?” she questioned trying to determine if the extra steps would be worth the effort.
I nodded and informed her there were some tombstones marked as early as 1815. My Noticer eagerly accepted my invitation but maintained her leisurely gate. After stopping to investigate a blackberry bush and an extra large grasshopper, we finally arrived at the cemetery. She carefully examined each stone, row by row. We talked about how long or how brief each person lived. We talked about how families were buried together. We talked about burial traditions and why some tombs had flowers and some didn’t. We marveled at the trees overhead that gave us shelter from the hot sun.
While resting on the wooden bench next to a family of tombs, my child made a declaration, “When I have a friend who dies, I will come here every year on her birthday. I will come each year on my birthday. I will remember the funny things she said and did and then I will pray.”
Oh yes. I hope so, my love. I hope that is exactly what you do.
May you will always walk against the busy traffic of life and find a shady spot to remember what matters most. May your life become a series of such meaningful rituals that live beyond your earthly days. And may you always have a favorite shirt that reflects the beautiful anthem of your heart. Wear it everyday if you want. I am sucker for a familiar sight.
*This post is dedicated to my dear cousin Kim who recently departed the earth but lives on in our hearts. When I was little, she taught me how to play volleyball. I remember her gentle instruction and encouraging words guiding me until I got the hang of it. My cousin had a hearty laugh. When you heard it, you felt safe, welcomed, and accepted—no strings attached. I will remember Kim’s unconditional kindness and will do my best to keep her kindness alive through my words and actions.
Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for your support of my absence as I became acclimated to my new home. I didn’t intend to be gone for so long, but I was exactly where I needed to be. As my companions on this journey, I know you understand. I feel compelled to mention that going through the moving experience has given me a greater appreciation for what our children experience when doing or starting something unfamiliar. As our children begin a new school year, let us be patient and understanding as they take in new routines, new faces, and new information. We all want to feel like we’ve been here before.
Please share your thoughts and experiences below. I have missed your hearts & your stories.