Fifty degrees in February. We rarely see days like this in the frozen north, so S and I and the beagle had to seize the day and venture out for a long afternoon walk. The fresh air and stretched limbs did us all good.
For some people, walking can be a spiritual practice. I remember reading Carol Howard Merritt describe this beautifully in her book Tribal Church, where she wrote about how long walks on a beach near her home helped her to heal after a miscarriage.
But walking hasn’t usually produced any kind of spiritual epiphany for me. Daily jaunts with a stroller and a dog in tow usually produce this kind of litany instead: H., heel. HEEL! Yes, S., that’s the doggie. Doggie. Yes, that’s the sound the doggie makes. No, we didn’t bring any snacks; you can wait till we get home. Oops, watch out for the puddle! Let’s steer around…Ok, car’s coming – heel, H. COME HERE, shh S., you’re fine, it’s just a car. Let’s go. No, no, H. – you cannot pee there. NO. STOP. STOP. No, S., you’re fine. Come, H., COME.
I enjoy our walks, but they’re hardly spiritual.
Today was a little different, however. As we looped through our neighborhood, listening to water drip off eaves and melting snow trickle down hills into the gutters, I started to notice the ground around us. Muddy, slushy, gooey muck. Browned snow mixed with dirt and sticks where the plow pushed it to the curb. Bits of trash now unearthed in the unseasonal thaw. A lone smashed pumpkin from Halloween, rotting at the road’s bend.
Most late winters, I turn up my nose at the detrius that spring’s melt brings. All the dog droppings that people forgot to pick up during winter’s chill, litter blown from garbage cans in the howling freeze, crumpled newspapers, piles of unraked leaves. It’s embarassing to see what lies hidden underneath snow’s pristine white.
But this day, my heart was comforted by the mess and the muck. I feel like that right now, at this moment in this season of parenting. Like my rawest and ugliest bits are being uncovered by forces beyond my control, laid bare for any passer-by to see.
Overwhelmed by pregnancy exhaustion and nausea, tired of solo parenting a tiring toddler while F works overseas, stressed by work and home and everything in between. My patience is short, my to-do list is long, and my prayer life is nowhere. If I ever wondered what it physically felt like to be at your wit’s end, I am living there every day now.
So I saw the mess and mud on the road’s shoulder as we walked today, and I felt comforted. I needed to see all that muck – the soggy newspaper and the dog droppings and the pop bottles and the rotting leaves – to remind myself that underneath, green grass pushes through undaunted. Somewhere deep down in my heart, it is there, too, though I can’t feel or see it now. There is happiness and laughter and peace and calm to be found. There is God.
We all have the same junk lining our lawns when the snow melts; we can’t hide it under the snow once the sun spins close enough to thaw. I know my life is like that, too. The path I’m struggling down is not uncharted territory, even though it’s daunting for me. There is solidarity to be found here somewhere.
But we’re each embarassed by the truth of our shadow sides, secretly shamed by the flaws and the faults and the sins. We’d rather keep certain parts of ourselves hidden under a thick, safe blanket of snow. Winter is comforting like that. Spring, on the other hand, brings the truth to light – the earthy, muddy muck we cannot hide. We have to acknowledge it, claim the mess as our own, do what we can to clean it up.
Muddying through these days is all I can do. I don’t have the strength or energy for anything else. I do not exaggerate when I state I am barely keeping it together. But maybe the truth of mud is exactly what I needed to realize in this moment: that through the mucky mess of right now, my green grass will eventually, inevitably push through towards the sun.
Spring will come. Winter does not last forever. And hope does not disappoint.