Because it is snowing
Photo used with Creative Commons License from http://www.flickr.com/photos/familyclan/15945487426
When I was in labor with my first child I could hear continuous screams of agony coming from the room next to mine. I already had my epidural at this point so I had lots of time to send silent prayers into the hospital ceiling for the woman next to me who was obviously in a monumental amount of pain. The nurses gave each other hushed looks and spoke quietly to each other without moving their lips. They requested staff to go shut the door only to realize it already was shut.
Nobody dared tell me until weeks after I got out of the hospital that the screams that escaped my neighbor’s room were because her baby was dead. Something I knew to be true all along, but willed myself to continue to refuse.
I thought about that woman frequently during the first few years of my baby’s life. I felt not only deep sadness for her, but I also felt connected to her. As if those screams had permeated my own and connected us in a new form of tapestry that made a little bit of her pain my own, and hopefully if I wished hard enough, a little bit of my joy hers.
It wasn’t only in sorrow that I thought of her. It was also in moments of extreme guilt. I didn’t want to complain about sleepless nights or untouched meals because I had a baby and she didn’t. I felt like I needed to love every moment of motherhood, if not for myself then for her, because she didn’t get a moment at all.
* * *
At the age of 27 I took up hiking. I needed an excuse to escape my house plus I needed a hobby to list for online dating profiles. I was OK at the physical parts of hiking. I could successfully walk without complaining for a few miles at a time and enjoy it. However I really struggled with the navigation of it all. I would stare at trail maps in preparation, attempting to memorize numbers and loops. I would jot notes on my hand, reminders of where I was going and where I needed to get. In the end I would walk for several miles in a straight line, about-face and trace my steps back. It was the only guaranteed way I could survive.
On a cold winter day I ventured out with my usual company, myself, with my usual plan of walking until I would have to make a decision I couldn’t remember and then turning back. It started snowing on my initial descent, and by the time I started my return trek there were beautiful flurries of snowflakes floating along beside me. It was just the right amount of snow to enjoy-not to be feared-but it made finding my way back to my car even more challenging.
At some point I realized I must have missed a turn off. Whether it was the flakes or the thinly dressed ground, something distracted me for long enough to go off course. I knew I couldn’t have gone more than 1/4 mile past where I should have taken a slight right (still pretty much a straight line) but I decided to just keep on walking. I was on a path, after all. It might not take me straight back to my car but I had confidence I would get there eventually.
It turned out to be a long eventually before I got there. The trail did take me somewhere, but that somewhere was about 3 miles from my car, a fact I only figured out after calling a friend who had to GPS my rough location based on my description to figure out how far I needed to travel in the 1 hour until I had to be to work. “Run” she advised, and that is what I finally did.
Later, when I would retell the story to amuse those who know how geographically challenged I am, I was asked why I kept walking when I knew I was on the wrong path. When I realized that I had gone too far, why didn’t I just turn around?
The only answer I could find was “because it was snowing.”
* * *
Someone asked me if I ever regret having children. I wanted to scream “not for a second” and “every single minute” both at the same time. How do you explain that you were hoping to go for a 3 mile hike and it somehow turned into a 5 mile hike followed by a 3 mile run? How do you explain that you aren’t sure how you even ended up on this path, and why you feel immense amounts of guilt if you ever get sick of your travels? How do you explain that there is a woman who you have never met, but feel eternally indebted to because you know that she would probably give anything to be on this trail right now?
You don’t. You just keep walking.
Because you are already on this path. Because whichever one it is, it will get you there eventually. Because there is no turning back. Because it is OK to not like a stretch. Because guilt doesn’t erase someone’s grief. Because we can’t change how we got to be in this situation.
Because it is snowing.