Thoughts while walking
While out walking, do you find yourself thinking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with your surroundings? I know I do. Pairs of walkers passing by chat about all sorts of things—family, friends, work, etc. Other solitary walkers stride along, their thoughts unknown to passersby.
When I get outside my thoughts often stray to unsettling situations. Somehow the quiet, the beauty all around me opens a door to places I tend to avoid thinking about. However, I also have had instances when these times of quiet help me make sense of confounding situations.
If you will, take a walk with me as I write. My intent is that in hearing a little of my own story it might help you make sense of something in your own life.
We all have, or will face “life-changing” events—some more substantial than others. These circumstances are the genesis of many of the stories we tell. In experiencing a major life-changing event, be it serious illnesses, medical or life catastrophes, the door to resisting change has been in essence, firmly shut. Even positive changes—marriage, a new job, becoming a new parent, moving to a better living situation—all present the challenge of altering long-standing habits.
At age thirty, my own life was transformed from being a stay-at-home mother with two young children to suddenly being faced with divorce and the need to work to support my children and me. I did not welcome this change, in fact, resisted it as long as I possibly could. Mine was not a unique challenge, but being thrown into this situation taught me some important lessons that have endured, despite now being happily remarried and a grandmother to a growing brood of little ones.
Discovering unrecognized abilities
“Marjorie, here’s a dust cloth. Here’s how you use it,” my friend told me. In those early days of living in a changed life I started a house cleaning business. I had no experience in really cleaning my own house, but I learned the basics, with the help of friends. Desperate mothers do desperate (and often surprising) things. And thus my business began.
In the routine of cleaning customers’ houses, I discovered that others would pay me to perform in solitude what amounted to light exercise and stretching. I soon saw dust everywhere, and diligently wiped down every surface. I once described the practice of dusting to a skeptical young friend as “Hugging your house.” I learned to view my surroundings in a new light, which resulted in leaving cleaner, brighter houses after my visits. My own house was cleaner too. I often said, “After cleaning ten bathrooms a week, what’s one more?”
This is not to say that making the necessary changes required to care for our family were easy. The alternative—failure—was more terrifying, and so I persisted.
When clients paid me for providing a service, they were sometimes unwilling or unable to say that they were unhappy with what I did. This soon resulted in the termination of our relationship. As I continued to learn, improve, and really listen to my customers, I acquired new clients who kept hiring (and paying) me for the value I brought to the arrangement, not out of sympathy for my life circumstances.
Learning that I could offer a service that others valued was an eye-opener that created a real shift in I saw myself. The thought that I had anything of value to share was a foreign concept. Succeeding after pushing through failures offered a boost to my self esteem, an unexpected result of confronting and moving through unwelcome change.
Finding value in ourselves
Were there people I could not work with, regardless of how much they offered to pay? Oh yes. Whether it was them or me, the partnership wasn’t going to work, and rather than prolonging the agony, I learned to be honest and let them know I would not be returning to work with them.
Only in retrospect did I realize that I truly enjoyed this work, and had gained great satisfaction working for myself. I had taken it for granted that I would be able to continue in the same direction for the foreseeable future. When I was unable to continue this work because of serious illness the loss was profound.
Finding our way
The choice of how to respond is still up to each of us. Illness, injury, and life-disruptions can present an opportunity. The wonder is that so many of us find creative ways to respond, not to return to life as we knew it, but to create a “new normal” that is often of a completely different quality than what came before.
The allure of change can be powerful, but the reality may be heartbreaking. Altering supposedly simple things such as our eating, sleeping, physical activity habits or how we react to others in our daily life is an incredibly difficult proposition to undertake.
Expect to be surprised
More difficult challenges can lie ahead just when we think we have gotten a handle on the new path that lies before us. Despite learning to successfully care and support my children in altered circumstances, my life’s path did not remain straightforward. Losing my ability to walk for a season and being left with continued health challenges closed the door of my house cleaning business. Regaining a measure of healing and making peace with my new, altered method of walking (with support) would someday open the door to writing books and sharing Easy Walks with others. But that, as they say, is another story.
I wrote the kernel of this piece over ten years ago, and still work to make sense of parts of this story. Bringing others along with me as I walk, either in person or in my heart, brings me great joy. Simply sharing our thoughts with others can be an important tool to gain insight into our next steps. Thanks for joining me. Happy trails.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks, Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places.
She has written for numerous local, regional, and national publications over the past 20+ years, has helped many families save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.