The trail that runs along the outskirts of my home has become a respite. I pound the pavement and sweat away the worries that quickly collect on my harried mind and weigh on my weak shoulders. I smile and wave at those who pass by. A friend once told me it was like being on a parade when we walked my favorite route, and the COVID lockdowns intensified my need to acknowledge every single passerby. I am a social creature and the great outdoors mixed with endorphins is the perfect recipe for making friends.
Spring has sprung in Columbus, Georgia and Saturday as I left my trials and tribulations on the asphalt path under my feet I welcomed the stretch of trail covered by trees in full bloom. They were rooted and anchored on their opposite sides but reached up and across to form a protective canopy for those who passed underneath. That shady stretch was the break my freckle factory of an epidermis needed, and I smiled a little bigger at the next runner who trotted by.
I’m known in my circles as a talker. I have yet to meet a friend or acquaintance who will disagree, but on the trail I become a thinker and a listener. Huffing and puffing under the protective coverage of the trees to my left and right I thought about the people in my life who naturally and unwittingly offer a space of safety and protection. I have been divorced for almost two years. After 21 years of marriage it has been an adjustment and adventure I wish upon no one, but a time of personal growth I wish for everyone. The lens I use to view the world has been permanently altered through circumstances beyond my control but my ability to appreciate my new vantage point lies solely on me.
Last week I had a stressful day at work. Nothing was going as planned and everyone wanted and needed answers I did not have. Happy hour was calling and it was only 10:00 am. In the past I would have called my husband to vent or ask for validation that this too would pass and I was good at what I did and no matter what he still loved me. I could no longer make that call. I had to give myself a pep talk and I was way better at second guessing and shooting holes in my theories. Soothing self-talk never was my strong suit. I felt a pang of woe is me begin to wash over, and then a co-worker walked by, turned around, stopped and said, “What’s going on with you?” I quickly perked up and put on my happy face, and replied, “Nothing! Just a busy day!” He smirked and said, “You have a good poker face, Kristen, but I can tell something is up. Remember you are building a plane in flight and the pace here never stops. . . you are doing a good job.” He smiled, I nodded and he walked out the door.
We worked side by side for almost a year and this was a first. His quick but kind gesture was a reminder of the protective canopy that surrounds me. I am only as alone as I choose to be. I no longer have a spouse but I have friends, family and co-workers who show up every day. For too many months I quietly wallowed in the space that fed my loss. I saw blissful couples at every turn and every night I entered a house that did not hear the echo of, “Honey I’m home!” They say silence can be deafening, but I have learned it can also be a peaceful lull. It all depends on the lens you choose for your view.
Our words and actions can protect those around us. It is not in the grandiose or social media worthy actions that we strengthen those who pass us on the trail. It is in the small and simple moments of connection, grace and understanding we solidify the relationships that sustain us. We can be rooted on different sides of the trail but we can reach out and across to protect those who pass below.
And sometimes you just have to see the forest for the trees.