I milled about, hoping to see someone I knew, hoping someone would know me.
“2015?” I asked.
“Yea, I’m Backdraft.”
“I’m Andy, uh Phantom,” I replied.
And I was back in the community that enveloped me four years ago as I walked from Georgia to Maine. We were at Trail Days in Damascus Va, the granddaddy of Appalachian Trail hikers. We stood awkwardly, made weak conversation then, “Hey I know you.”
“Sam I Am,” I replied, “half the trail knows you, bro.”
Now I was back and I was in. Surrounded by crazy old men who were surrounded by crazy young men and women, we started down Main Street in Damascus, VA for the traditional hiker’s parade. The town’s people came out with water pistols, water cannons, water buffalos. Even the fire company sprayed us from their tanker truck. I talked fast, I ran into the crowd and back again, looking for my year group.
“I must be the only hiker who can get lost in his own parade.”
Yea, I was back. For a moment I stood in the street, looked about, took a deep breath in and I was lost, lost in a time warp, not wanting to come back, not needing reality, lost. Or was I found—found in a reality that exists all along but we rarely touch it. It’s not perfection, isn’t apathy or complacency. It’s satisfaction, born in preparation, hard work, and determination. But mostly, it’s born because we are there.
We got up, we walked, and we opened ourselves to the potential for failure, but we didn’t care. I stood in the street not caring about broken gutters, getting a job, battling hurricanes, building motorcycles, or killing weeds. It just didn’t matter. Life.
Life matters, and that’s what I found in the middle of men wearing dresses, women wearing hiking boots, and dogs wearing backpacks. When everything you need is on your back, your only concern is the next white blaze, well you know the rest—God’s world opens up. That’s a bit of what happened. Sure, I can’t just stand on a corner and get that feeling, because it’s more.
It’s God working in me, it’s his presence I feel after praying, reading, consulting and searching. You don’t get it laying in bed, staring out a window, or listening to the radio. Not usually. It comes from the Spirit, more real than the voice in your head telling you that you’re an imposter, that you are not good enough, and gon’na fail.
The day before I spoke to a group of thru-hikers, past and present. They didn’t know me but they sat in the old Rock School auditorium. No air conditioning but at six, the sun was declining along with the summer like temperatures. I didn’t know how many, if any would be there. I didn’t know who would stay. I had no idea if anyone was interested, if anyone would want a book, or if anyone would object to my evangelical message that Jesus was there on the 27th. Jesus raised my son from the carnage we call home.
Twenty people, from age 20ish to seventy some sat on wooden fold up chairs while I projected my power point onto the back wall above the stage. They laughed, I cried, everyone’s eyes stayed on me. And in the end, everyone stayed and the number of books bought was higher than the attendance. Grateful. Gratitude for everyone there. Afterwards,I chattered away thanking them all for buoying my commitment by their support.
And the next day, in the middle of the street, I breathed in the belief, and exhaled the doubt. I sucked up the success, expelled the failure. In came the potential, out cast the limits. A moment captured in time. We do that, we capture moments all the time. The moment you brought your baby home from the hospital. The moment you held your future by the hand and wondered if you can kiss her. Moments strung together make a life.
And remember life? It matters.
Please check out my book to read more on how life was restored to this psychologist after my son was killed. How I went from wanting to die to embracing this life and finding meaning in the trees, the rocks, the people around me. When Sunday Smiled can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=When-Sunday-Smiled&ref=nb_sb_noss_