Saturday, April 30, 2016

No Lonely Trails

A couple of days ago, I was trudging down a worn gravel road a few miles from my house after a long, but relaxing run. The weather was pristine; sunny and high 70's with barely a cloud in the sky. As often does when I'm out walking, my mind began to wander, and I found myself thinking about how similar life is to hiking down one of my favorite hiking trails.

There is a three-mile stretch of trail out at Camp Horizon that is one of my favorite places to run trails.  It's a twisty hodgepodge of trail complete with rocks, boulders, fields, wildflowers, woods, and prairie to run through.  In those three short miles, a person can experience a vast array of beauty, scenery, and wildlife. One of my favorite things about this stretch of trail is when you are on it for the first time, you have no idea what is coming up around each bend. No sense of what mystery awaits you.  If you're not paying attention, you might not see a tree root sticking up, poised to trip you. You might not see the tree whose branch is prepared to collide with an inattentive forehead. You also might not see the wild blue indigo whose flowering beauty comes into bloom in mid-spring.

Isn't life kind of like that? Full of wonder, surprises, pitfalls, and beautiful things?

I'm going to be very open and honest and say that for years, I had been so consumed with the pursuit of my career that I often left everything, and everyone, on the trail behind me. My singular selfish focus was on advancing my career. It took nearly a decade of racing down the trail before I ever even bothered to look around. As I slowed and glanced back down the trail...I realized there were only one set of tracks...mine. I was alone. It was at that moment, a couple of years ago, I made the decision to stop running and begin living my life. I decided opportunities would present themselves whenever life decided it was time, but I would not waste my life pursuing them at the expense of living. I would no longer let my career be my singular focus, but rather a part of the broader scenery that is my life.

So I started enjoying my life. Made a bucket list. Began enjoying the people around me. Heck, even made a few new friends. Started to appreciate the efforts of my friends at work and all they do for the college. I took time to slow down and look at all of the wonders I had been running by...without so much as a passing glance. Although I have not yet mastered the art of all of these, my journey continues by putting one foot in front of the other.

If you're lucky when you are out trail running, you sometimes get the opportunity to meet up with folks on the trail. If luck holds, you may even get to spend a few miles hiking or running with them. You talk about the trails, life, or whatever suits your fancy and for a moment you are simply enjoying their longer worried about where the trail is taking you or how difficult the terrain may be.

A few years ago, about the time I started to realize there was more to life than my career, our trail began to merge with a few others. Before we knew what was even happening, our path had become intertwined with a few other couples from the area. We walked and talked along that trail, got to know each other, spent long late nights laughing and enjoying each other's company.  We have had many memorable moments on cruise ships, down trail races, around kitchen tables, and a myriad of other places we have all been together. Some of my favorite moments have happened in our cedar lined backyard by the bonfire, wrapped up in blankets on a cold night, having a beer or two and enjoying unguarded and honest conversations. Simply being in one another's presence.

Along our journey, we discovered we shared many of life questions and concerns; kids, marriage, career, anxieties, joys and so on.  In them, we have found a companionship that runs to the very depths of the heart. They have touched our lives, touched our hearts and have left their mark on the very fiber of who we are. They love us for who we are, flaws and all. They don't ask us to conform to any expectations or pass judgment. They just love. And in return, we do the same for them.

Another close friend recently told me of a quote by Favia Weedn that seems to sums it up nicely:

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” 

Life is temporal and all journeys will eventually draw to an end.  As we move along, ever closer to the end of the trail, I won't have to look back and wonder what I will find. Rest assured there will be other footprints on the trail behind us...left there by friends traveling right by our side. 

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