“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.”
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
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.