The breeze off the North Sea while welcoming, held reminders that the ocean has her own mind. One moment it would comfort around my shoulders like the knit scarves I have of my mother’s. The next it would pick up the pace and smack my cheek as if to say, “Never underestimate me.” It was the last three miles of this “walk” known as the the Coast-to-Coast (C2C) across Northern England, which our group of twelve walkers and one guide began April 28th and ended May 10th in St. Bees by the Irish Sea and were now completing in Robin Hood’s Bay. Just over 200 miles. Hiking, scrambling, bouldering, striding, climbing, fording streams, and at times, simply walking, we had made it. Most of us exhausted and spent (that was me.)
When we set out in St. Bees, the Irish Sea had been on our left. The sky, partly sunny, and a breeze had wished us luck. On our right, green fields flecked with sheep and lambs. Sheep and lambs became a repetitive theme for most of the trip, their bleating song and the socializing of lambs an uplifting backdrop. Coming into Robin Hood’s Bay, there was a final flock of sheep and a few lambs chasing each other. Our unintended welcoming committee. The sky was painted Wedgewood blue. We had crossed the land and come full circle. We took our final steps down the steep incline to the bay and tossed the stones picked up in St. Bees into the water. A ritual of completion
Invitations from my Mentor-Grief
Even two days after reaching the North Sea, words that came as snippets of images and metaphors while I walked are just now coming back into focus. Too weary to write once I got back on the path after my day five respite, my journal holds only one entry where my handwriting is a jumble of semi-decipherable words. I mentioned in previous posts how Grief has been my mentor on this journey. Each day offered a different invitation (though one was consistent for me-the pain in my feet.) Each day a different insight and gift. I thought I would be overcome with emotion when I reached the sea. Instead I was overcome with exhaustion. It was the next day before a “primary” emotion rose to the surface like a shell brought in from the sea—amazement. My almost 60 year-old body did this! Thirteen strangers bonded together and supported each other like an old grove forest, roots interwoven to survive an arduous trek, including a storm. Who could have anticipated that? The incredible beauty of the land, even when she was harsh and battered us like a fox capturing a rabbit. For after the battering came came trees and wildflowers—medicine for weary souls. And water, running down rocks, through becks, over hillsides, miring the moors. It was everywhere. And when it was mixed with peat, it threatened to suck us under
Loss: An Arduous Journey
The hardest day and a half for us all was on the Yorkshire Moors, which in part is heather the color of medium roast coffee beans this time of year. Interspersed are porcupine-like reedy mounds, mud, and peat. It is the pallet of dreary from a distance. A steady rain had arrived late afternoon of our tenth day on the journey and continued on into the night. We all donned our “wets” (raingear) the next day after a cozy night in a secluded B&B and set off for the Cleveland Hills and the promise of a roller coaster day of height gains. Coupled with rocks and mud and aching feet, the day already had a sense of foreboding as the wind pick up its pace as ours slowed down. We left the deciduous trees and forget-me-nots that I found comforting behind, and hit the moors, or maybe I should say, the moors hit us. The winds were blowing 30 mph “nose on” (as our sailor companion said) or sideways and the rain felt like needle pricks again the only part of my body that was exposed, my face. Words were suctioned away as well as any breath, reminding me of my time as a hospital chaplain sitting by patients in ICU. There was no space for conversation. Our only reprieve: our lunch break at a small cafe. Indoors. Warm. Dry. Coffee. We encourage each other to move on. There was no doubt we would.
Finding Hope in the Muck
Toward the end of that 20-mile, nine-hours-of-walking day I moaned into the wind, “I can’t hear what you are saying when you shout at me!” The wind paid no heed. I thought the North Sea had sent the wind to blow us back to St. Bees. Our place of respite for the night, The Lion Inn, came into view at the top of the horizon. Relief was replaced by dread as one last steep, muddy hill needed to be overcome before we fell through the door. As one of my companions said, “I feel shattered.” The tank was empty. And yet, our human spirit had threaded us together and we had pulled each other along. I ordered dinner, but was too tired to eat. Not everywhere we stayed, rooms had a bath, but this place did. We were all grateful for a tub to soak. And then there is perspective. We chose to do this journey. There are refugees, prisoners of war, and others who endure worse. They have no cafes or place to stay at the end of a long day or meals to look forward to. So while that day and the beginning of the next spoke to our individual and group spirit, we also remained grateful for our choice.
And so the metaphors came as I was walking through that difficult day:
How loss can be the storm that shatters us and still we survive.
How being able to see someone ahead of you keeps you going.
That there are days you simply hold on and draw on every resource you have…and that is enough. Don’t expect anything more from yourself.
There were calm days before the storm, there will be calm ones again. Life is full of cycles.
How you walk alone and also walk together—the both/and.
And on and on. Like I mentioned earlier, still sorting through all my thoughts.
And then there is this: how a single wildflower in the midst of mud, rain, wind, and muck can offer hope. Every once in a while a small purple flower would appear in a crack of a rock or amid the mud— just when I needed a dose of soul medicine.
Sweetness of Ritual
The sweetest day on the C2C was my mother’s birthday, May 7th. They day before I noticed forget-me-nots along roadsides and scattered among the trees and I began to think about what might be a meaningful ritual to honor my mother’s birthday while I was on this sojourn. The next morning I told our guide, Paul, that if it was appropriate, I would like to scatter a few of my mother’s ashes and place one of the fused-glass hearts I had brought from home, to honor her. We discussed what kind of spot might be meaningful and I added that I hold things loosely and if it didn’t work out, that was okay.
After a morning walk along a roadside filled with forget-me-nots, we hit farmland and roadways and I wasn’t getting a sense we were going to be anywhere near a meaningful place. But on our break Paul said, “I think I know the place. I’ll let you know and you say if it’s okay.” As we crossed a green pasture, a small brook was whispering just beyond the wire fence that kept the cattle from crossing into the water. Paul looked at me. At first I thought, “no,” and then I spotted them: forget-me-nots and I knew it was the spot. As my new friends and curious cattle looked on, a blue glass heart with a butterfly-wing’s amount of my mother’s cremains fell into the flowers, now hidden from view. I sprinkled some additional cremains, shared how my mother called me her “darling girl,” sang a verse of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” and then we moved on. A simple and meaningful ritual.
Diving Deep on the Sojourn
This sojourn has asked me to dive deep. Grief is my guide and unfolds the map at the beginning of each leg, saying, “Okay dear one, you’re ready for what is next.” I have left Northern England and I could write more. A books worth on the C2C alone. I have arrived in Wales where I will spend eight days. I hope to get back to more routine posts. There is so much left undone from the C2C, but it will come later. That I trust. And I continue to let go of my perfectionism. This post, I’m sure has errors, but it is late and I want to capture this moment. So this is my offering to you.
What rituals do you find meaningful to honor losses in your life?
When was a time you felt “shattered” and how were you able to regain your sense of hope?