My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming Hope in a World Turned Upside Down
Marjorie Turner Hollman
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Sudden loss of mobility and eventual partial restoration of movement has made taking Easy Walks an essential source of healing for the author. Learn how a bell, a ball, and a bicycle create openings for joy in the midst of an uncertain future. You may recognize steps to take that lead to paths of healing and hope in your own life.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a freelance writer who loves the outdoors, and has completed four books in the Easy Walks guide book series. My Liturgy of Easy Walks is her memoir, learning to live with a changed life. Media appearances: ABC news show, Chronicle; CBS Channel 4; The Boston Globe.
Time and distance have offered me some perspective. Occasionally I have gained sudden insights. Some events have been difficult to make peace with. Practicing patience has been essential, though rarely welcome. With the benefit of hindsight I am now able to see that much good has come out of what felt at times to be hopeless situations.
Writing this book has taken me close to thirty years. Rather than try to explain everything I have learned, I’d rather tell you some stories. Take what you need from them, and leave the rest.
Lessons learned must sometimes be relearned. That in itself is worth remembering.
Sitting on the back of a horse named Surprise, I waited impatiently as the instructor adjusted the stirrups to fit my short legs. It was 1965, my first riding lesson at age nine. I was excited, and only a little anxious. Two instructors kept a close eye out as the class walked our horses around the ring. One of the instructors, wearing a raincoat against the damp, turned, the wind blowing open her coat. Frightened by the flashing fabric, my horse shied, nearly dislodging me from the saddle. Startled, I grabbed the saddle horn, dropping the reins.
Given free rein, my mount took off like a shot. The outer rail was temptingly close so I lunged, missed the railing, and ended up still on the horse, riding sideways. Holding on as my mount galloped about the ring, we provided a circus-like show for the enraptured students, who stood gaping at the spectacle. My frightened horse turned sharply, dumping me face first into a large mud puddle in the ring. Relieved of his frantic, noisy burden, he soon stopped. The instructors led him out of the ring, back to his stall.
Toweled off, I was placed right back on the most placid horse at the establishment and walked around the ring, the instructor holding the horse’s head steady the entire outing. They knew the old adage, that the best thing to do when you fall off a horse is to get right back in the saddle.
Wary yet undeterred by my first outing, I continued taking lessons that year, and later rode at several other stables in the area. Throughout that time no other horse offered a ride that came close to my first misadventure. I developed a taste for gentle cantering, much preferring the rolling gait to the bumpity-bump of trotting, with its attendant jouncing of the spine. And much nicer than the terrifying feeling of being on board a runaway.
As an adult, my enthusiasm for horseback riding was always attended by trepidation. I longed to glide along on the back of a quiet horse. There was always the possibility, especially with an unfamiliar horse, that her plans and mine would not coincide. I thought my discomfort must be because I’d never had much occasion to care for a horse. Maybe the mucking out, feeding, saddling, and general handling of the animal might have lessened my anxiety. In truth, my enthusiasm was always compromised by the suspicion that something untoward was likely to happen.
My health issues later made horseback riding and even walking more difficult for me. While I had enjoyed the sensation of being on the back of a horse, I didn’t miss the anxiety of coping with a large animal.
One weekend with my extended family, we gathered to remember my mother, who had died earlier that year. We stayed with Mom’s oldest and dearest friends, Audrey and Alan, at their lakeside cottage in Maine. While there, I spotted some small, sit-on-top kayaks. My children, their cousins, and my siblings, took the kayaks out on the quiet lake, paddling and maneuvering with ease on the surface of the water. Unlike river kayaks, these small recreational kayaks are stable and easy to steer, intended for quiet paddles in calm waters, not dashing through white-water rapids. Despite my mobility issues, I felt compelled to try one of the little boats. They looked just my speed.
Getting help to climb onto one of the kayaks, I pushed off and was entranced. I flashed back to my experiences riding on horseback. When a passing boat sent a rolling wake my direction, I rode the swells, which brought to mind the sensation of a horse’s gentle cantering gait. It was both comforting and reassuring. I hated returning to shore. This was a way for me to move with grace again, something I had been deprived of for many years. After taking short breaks I’d head back out, getting in a last paddle the morning we left.
Once back home at Silver Lake, I kept thinking of that small kayak and the pleasure I’d had paddling. As a disabled single parent, my finances did not allow for the purchase of a kayak. My siblings saw my joy and soon my sister Beth arrived at my house with a joint gift from them: a little red kayak. We took it out on Silver Lake to christen it. Since then my small boat has traveled many miles with me.
On one of our first dates, my second husband and I paddled our kayaks on the river near where he lived. There we confirmed our mutual joy in nature, and our shared passion of being on the water in our little watercraft. Floating along the river, we passed others paddling their kayaks and canoes. We spoke together with ease as we followed the course of the river, playfully bumping each other’s boats as we wandered from shore to shore, exploring the river.
The great blue herons played hide and seek among the grasses, flying just ahead of us, then settling down, squawking as we came up beside them farther along the river. Shy turtles nosedived into the water, disappearing from sight.
These days we still to paddle quiet waterways. We added a tandem kayak to our small flotilla, a sleek vessel that steers easily. Our paddles knife through the water in rhythm as we move through the water in silence.
The day I settled into the seat of that little kayak in Maine, I was surprised in a much different way than on my first encounter with a horse in the riding ring. The first strokes of my paddle moved the boat through the water with ease. There were similarities to my horseback riding experiences, but I was grateful for the differences. Evidently I had been searching for a little boat to love all that time.
When I am paddling, my heart sings. When life feels hard, my kayak offers a refuge, a comfort, until I’m ready to face the day. Alone or with companions, I’m filled with joy as I glide along.
Everyone needs a “little boat” in their life. How lucky for me that mine is waiting at the lake, and as far as I know, has never even thought of running away with me.
Keep on Singing—1999
First published in Alive Now! Upper Room Ministries, 2010, reprinted with permission
I was part of the choir that was preparing to perform some “greatest hits” from Handel’s Messiah. As I sat through the dress rehearsal, I had my doubts if everything would come together. The director stopped us in so many places, focusing on tone, pitch, pronunciation, articulation. I felt like I was in a car with someone just learning to drive as we jerked down the road. I wanted to say, “Clutch—put in the clutch!” It was a bumpy ride.
During the rehearsal, in which most of the soloists practiced their parts with us so we could get a feel for how those parts fit into the program, the director made an important point. A soloist had made an error of omission, leaving out a few words in the solo. He instructed us, the choir, to resist following along in the musical score when the soloists were singing. “If you do this and see a mistake,” he explained, “you won’t be able to help reacting, which will draw attention to it. The audience will see your reaction. Just sit back and enjoy the music. I will cue you to when to come back in.”
He was firm on this point: “No looking!” What I didn’t realize until after the performance to a standing-room-only crowd, was that during the performance all the nitpicking that he had done during the rehearsal was also done. Were there mistakes? Oh, yes. Did he stop and correct us? Not once. He gave no indication that we had made mistakes.
We just kept singing. When the last notes were sung, the crowd greeted us with loud, appreciative applause. They had not come hoping to pick out mistakes. Nor did they come expecting perfection, or novelty. They found joy in the familiar, and comfort in the majestic sounds of Handel’s music.
Each of us will find good reasons to focus on mistakes, while at other times we must just “keep singing.” May we have the wisdom to recognize the difference and respond accordingly.
My friend and I were visiting together. Our conversation rambled, straying to topics we wanted to bounce off someone we knew would listen without providing a ready answer. We are both pretty grounded and capable of figuring out a lot on our own. It’s the “being listened to” that is important, not the providing of solutions.
We came to the topic of friends who appeared to have intractable problems, and how sad we feel when we know there is no way we can fix their problem. When I was going through some of my hardest struggles, this friend was able to listen to me even though she could do little to put things right. Perhaps more important than the listening, I knew that she cared, yet didn’t allow her caring to destroy her own love of life, her enjoyment of her children, and her joy in the outdoors. Because she was taking care of herself, I was able to talk about my struggles and know she would “worry responsibly.” I felt confident that it would not be too hard for her. She didn’t let my problems destroy her joy.
As I have grown stronger and am more able to carry others’ burdens for a time, it is easier to be a “responsible worrier.” To care deeply, and then allow myself to go dancing, and let my body, heart, and soul fly as freely as the music can carry me. To laugh or weep with my friends and then return to the presence of my children, who often make me laugh till tears roll down my cheeks.
We are thinking of issuing “Responsible Worrier” cards, whose membership requires “Deep caring, intent listening, respect of personal privacy, and a determination to do what is needful if it is possible. To speak to someone who is able to help if possible, to promise to pray, even when there seems no clear solution. To trust God to care as much as we do (well, maybe God can care more …) as we rejoice in the gifts we are given. And when we are called to “worry responsibly” again, we will have the strength and the will to do so with a grateful heart.”
I think this must be an organization that is self-selected. If we had to decide who could and could not join, it would just be another thing to worry about.
Grace in Unexpected Places—2000
I saw my divorce lawyer recently. It had been awhile. He greeted me and introduced me to his wife. I told them what a compassionate divorce lawyer he was. He responded, “That’s an enigma, isn’t it?” We all laughed.
I never dreamed I would need a divorce lawyer. It was 1985 and I had been married for ten years. When I needed a lawyer I was in no shape, emotionally or physically, to look around for the “very best.” I called him because he was “a friend of a friend,” and went from there.
Contrary to stereotypes, from the beginning of my dealings with him he guided me towards a possible solution, not an impossible ideal. For my first appearance in court, he drove with me, explained what to expect, and sat by my side as we negotiated child support arrangements. My world had turned upside down.
As we drove back home, rather than discuss further strategy, what else I could have said, or anything of that sort, he told me stories. Stories of his own family, some of their dealings, disagreements, and how they had solved some of their problems. He spoke of both his and his wife’s pride in their children. How, beyond either of their professional accomplishments, the warmth they felt towards their children far surpassed any pride they experienced from their own work.
I had little to say then. I think he knew, or sensed that I was in a place of deep despair. He didn’t look for any response, instead filled the time we spent together offering a caring warmth that comforted me as much as was possible at the time. I have never forgotten that. We have had a few dealings since that first terrifying trip to court so many years ago but none were as hard as the first.
I hear the lawyer jokes, but never having been much of a joke teller myself, I have not passed them on. In fact, I don’t have much enthusiasm for jokes, especially not lawyer jokes. When I needed an advocate, one who had the strength to speak for me when I felt too downtrodden to speak for myself, I found someone who spoke for me. Rather than pointing out what I should have done, how I “should” have advocated for myself, he told me stories. When there was no spirit in me to do what needed to be done, a compassionate lawyer stayed near me and stood up for me and my children. An enigma? I call it a gift.