Into My Wilderness
There have been times in my life when an important event transpired at the culmination of various factors, a dozen external events, decisions and choices seemingly random, but somehow delivering me to the moment I needed. Mormon rhetoric is ample with polarizing concepts such as fate or personal significance. The language of my patriarchal blessing is a good example: “You chose to be born at this particular time. You knew the challenges you would face, but you still had a great desire to come….Be mindful of bearing your testimony at the proper and time and place for there are those who will need what you have to say, and they will be strengthened.” The beliefs I hold now still kowtow to these overarching ideals: I wanted and chose to be here. My life has purpose.
A series of seemingly random events delivered me to Minneapolis one weekend. I had originally agreed to run nine miles through the woods with Amy, my one (cherished) single girlfriend in Iowa. I had spent the summer in Utah looking for work, searching for the holy grail of a job that would keep me there permanently. As we worked through the details of our divorce, my ex agreed to move if I found work. And one week before I was to return to Iowa, it happened. I was offered a job. The stars had, at last, lined up for me, and all the good karma I had sent out into the world was finally finding its way back to me, as I well knew it would. Then my ex backed out of our deal.
The morning I woke up to return to Iowa, I was physically incapable of getting out of bed. I had been suffering from a herniated disc and though I had been running easily all summer I had relapsed worse than ever. I lay in bed, helpless, and cried, needing over an hour to warm my muscles enough to finally crawl out, shower and dress. It was, I think, the lowest moment of my life.
I returned to Iowa and re-entered physical therapy on Monday, the same week I started teaching composition classes. The first day, I couldn’t get off the table after treatment, and I was ten minutes late to the first lecture of my second class. A month later, I had recovered, but I certainly didn’t trust myself to run. I told Amy I would cheer her on. I thought about cancelling the trip entirely. Money concerns and other appealing offers from friends tempted me, but somehow I ended up in Minneapolis.
The first night in the city, I dreamed I was in Terry Tempest Williams’ house. We were caring for sick animals and children together. I woke, feeling transformed, rejuvenated. Once in a while, I will have an intuitive dream that will set my world right again. I had not had one of these dreams for months, perhaps even a year, having suffered for too long beneath a dark cloud. Yes, I thought now. Care for the animals. Care for the children. I felt wholly connected to my life’s purpose, connected to the glory of nature and my inherent natural state. We drove to the race. The Minnesota woods, exuding early fall, captured my heart.
“There’s going to be fairies,” Amy said, and I believed it.
I had dressed for the run just in case but still felt unsure about committing. I would be running in barefoot shoes, a transition I had made after my back injury, and I didn’t know how I would fare on a nature trail, especially in the woods. I had injured my foot running on uneven surfaces before. It made no sense for me to run this race whatsoever, but I promised Amy I would listen to the wind, and decide.
“What does the wind say?” Amy asked.
I walked out onto the trail and listened. The leaves whispered. The crisp air patted me gently.
The wind said yes. I could do it.
We lined up, the gun fired, and I started running with the crowd, terrified of injury. I did have the luxury of an exit strategy. At two and a half miles, the path diverted and I could finish by running the half distance, about five miles. The path, we discovered, was mostly hills. I pulled way back on the first steep downhill and lost Amy. Rocks, twigs, incline. Every step took faith. For me, this entire year had been about moving past my fear, and I practiced that now in each moment. I feared for my feet, which were striking hard against the rocks. The last injury took a year of recovery.
After a mile, it became clear that I could do this. My breath was steady and my back was holding up fine. I had run only twice in the past month, but my legs felt strong. My feet not only handled the rocks, they seemed to be adapting easily. I connected with the path. I felt every rock, every twig. We merged, the forest and I, creating a moving, breathing intersystem of existence, each acknowledging the other.
I reached the fork in the road at two and a half miles. The path for the half race was downhill, the path for the full race a steep uphill. I paused, and listened to my body. My back felt great. I knew my legs would not wear out. Yes! My feet said. More rocks! More twigs!
I ran up the hill.
To the scientist, God says, come sit at your microscope, and I will show you what I know. But to the writer, God says, come out into my wilderness, and I will show you what I know.
I had always wondered how ancient tribal people ambled about the wilderness barefoot. This was how. By merging, by not being afraid, by allowing what already is and adapting to it. As a writer, as a mother, as a woman with her share of personal stress, as a dreamer, I struggle almost constantly to live in the present moment. This race, this forest, these rocks and trees and twigs pulled me into the now and held me.
And I was happy to be here.