An Inukshuk and a Hand


“March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.”

 Khalil Gibran

I learned today that a close friend’s husband wants to divorce.  They are parents of four children, all but one still at home.  She still loves while he, apparently, does not.  A sad end to a marriage that started with great flourish and has lasted nearly 25 years.

As is the custom with women, we friends have circled the wagons around her, trying hard to smother the flow of pain we cannot stop.  We will be there, as we have been with other friends divorced, with friends who have suffered the unthinkable loss of children, with friends who have had a long road to travel when their parents failed, with friends who have endured unbearable disease and when friends have simply and sorely lost their way.

I have been enveloped with that shield in my past.  You who came to my
aid honored me greatly by extending your hand.  I thank you for what you said and did for me and how you made me feel a bit of hope at a time when I felt hopeless.  It is humbling to be cared for so.

So humbling, in truth, that as time passed and life looked a little less ominous, I found myself quite reluctant to lean on the shoulder of another.  I had survived, hadn’t I?   And quite well, actually?  Why give way to vulnerability, to need, to dependence on somebody else when I am doing well on my own, thank you? 

The answer of why not came with a jolt of simple reality and in the unlikely form of an Olympic mascot, a Canadian icon that has been perhaps a wee bit commercialized but regardless, strong and true.  It would be hard to visit British Columbia today without spotting an inukshuk, and by spying one, you are blessed with the prospect of a far easier grasp of your pathway.

Unless you are from that part of the world, you may not know that inukshuks are stacks of rocks built by humans to communicate or provide direction.  Traditionally, the Inuit people living above the Arctic Circle from
Alaska to Greenland used these as guideposts to
help guide, lead and share knowledge.   Inukshuks were left along the path as messages to make the way safer and easier for those who follow.   They were left to help others in the tundra where there are very few natural landmarks and where it is thus far too easy to become lost. 

Each inukshuk is unique and fits the space where it is needed.  Small or large, boulders or small stones, each starts with a single rock put in place upon which others are balanced.  Each rock that is added to the pile is dependent upon the one above and the one below.  Without each other, the pile of rocks has no meaning or no balance.

If you visit Whistler today you will find a mass of inukshuks at the peak.  If you ride a bicycle along the seawall of Vancouver around Stanley Park and toward English Bay, you will find many more.  Some have been sculpted for longevity.  Others are placed by locals or tourists wishing to leave their mark, others by the plucky man who builds them continually, only to knock them down when we tourists bring out our cameras.  All have
their purpose.

When I look at these modern-day inukshuks I think of what it might have been like to be crossing an unknown path in the cold and dark of a frigid winter.  And what it must have felt like to have those markers come into view.  How they provided strength, courage, light, peace.  And I think of those who have guided me along the way, those who helped me see a bit of light when I was at my darkest.  And I think of my friend and wonder how best I can reach out in her dark time. 

When I hiked last week through the woods of Nairn Falls Trail near Pemberton, British Columbia, a hand reached out to help me up.   Mind you, this is not remarkable, except for the fact that for a long while I have been disinclined to ask. It is all new.  The first time this happened was on
another hike, and I was startled that someone would turn to check how I was faring and reach out to me, for I had spent many years with someone who wouldn’t.   

In the interim, it seems I had lost the gift of letting go and of sharing my vulnerability with someone else. I was proud to have survived and to feel like I needed no one else.  It had become hard to allow someone to see I needed help. It was tough for me to know I needed someone else and to let them know it.  

When I reached out to take his hand as we climbed from the riverfront back to the path, I realized how easily it came to me.  I have finally come to know that grasping the hand extended to me does not make me weak.  I somewhat reluctantly have learned that I alone am responsible for my happiness and the choices I make.  But a helping hand along the way makes the journey easier and more pleasant.

I think now of the inukshuks that are ever-present in that beautiful country.  They are not built because we cannot make the journey alone.  They are built, instead, as visible encouragement by those that have come along the path before or are willing to come along now.  They are there as a reminder that there is nothing wrong with reaching out a hand for help and there is no greater enjoyment than extending a hand. And to look at an inukshuk, I am reminded of steadiness, of balance and of equilibrium.  

And I know, now, that steadiness comes from the connections I have with others who have marked my path. 

18 thoughts on “An Inukshuk and a Hand

  1. This really touched me today. You have no idea how pertinent this is in my life right now, as I contemplate and will follow a new path with those sharp rocks and scary parts…. much like your friend. I am trying to be strong and must learn to rely on myself, but at the same time I am grateful for the advice, support and encouragement of friends and even strangers. Angels who have flown into my life just in this week alone, are a Godsend. Words that are “randomly” placed in my path, such as the words of your beautiful essay. Thank you.

  2. What a truly beautiful post. Thank you. I had great need of family and friends for support when my husband died very suddenly. After 41 years with his support and love I was left alone. And I know that even when I shunned help and said I didn’t need it those family and friends ignored me and offered help anyway. Just being there will help your friend most. Being a listening ear will be very important to her over the next months and into the future. She is lucky to have a friend like you. 🙂

    • And thanks for telling about the inukshuks. I saw these when my late husband and I visited in and around Vancouver but our friends were unable to tell us much about them.

    • Thanks Judith. When someone shuns help, you do have to ignore that and find a way to be there for them. Kind and listening ears helped me through various rough patches that would have been quite difficult to navigate alone.

  3. These are the most stunning photographs. My son is a stone carver and he has opened my eyes to the beauty of stone. I love the photo of the round rocks at the edge of the water. What a balancing act.
    Seeking and accepting help has always been challenging for me; to ask is to acknowledge some weakness or flaw. That’s how I’ve often approached it and unfortunately, I have not always been blessed with the circle of friends you seem to have. And, maybe I didn’t give them the space to offer? Who knows. This post is full of thoughtful observations, as always. Thank you.

    • Like you, Walker, it has been very tough for me to let go of the belief that asking for help meant I was weak. I have wondered if that came from some sort of dynamic that existed in my previous relationship but have nearly concluded maybe it is just plain me. I realize that people truly want to help and that they feel good doing so, as I feel good when I help someone else. Not sure why, but that seems to help me to let go of that part of me that always thinks it has to be strong.
      I took about 50 more photos of the inukshuks—the stone and the light and the water were amazing together.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Beautiful post, beautiful words of wisdom. No matter how small your circle of friends, there should always be one or two who can offer support and help you fight against gravity. Even one person’s love is enough to help navigate difficult situations. Gorgeous photos. I never heard of inukshuks, but I have one I made in my backyard.

  5. If words can ever be breathtaking, these are. There’s beauty in the photographs, there’s wisdom in the narrative and there’s spirit in the writer. What a spellbinding post!

    Your friend is lucky to have you.

  6. I had a friend who died alone after an illness. those of us who loved her wanted so much to help, and even ignored her denial of need of anything at all and tried to visit her (she refused to answer her door or phone). Someone commented at her funeral about how selfish she was to refuse the loving care of her friends. What a gift it would have been if she had only let us show our love, but she could not, and would not ask or allow it.

    Your photos are splendid and the words extraordinary. Thank you for sharing both

    • Thank you K8edid. That is a very poignant story. I can not imagine choosing to die all alone nor can I imagine having a friend shut you out like that. So sad for her and it must have been quite painful for her friends.

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