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Week 36: Carolyn Sterling

Never have I written two blogs about one hike…but there’s a first time for everything!  This is my second blog

about my hike with Carolyn Sterling, my companion for the 36th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” because after writing the first one, I FAILED TO SAVE IT *&%*!  After spending quite a few hours trying to recover the lost document, I realized I had accidentally turned off my laptop’s automatic backup. I’m sharing this frustrating episode because it highlights a guiding principle, which Carolyn lives by and shared with me during our hike.  She said, “With the right mindset, everything is a teachable moment.”

Hmmm, what did I learn from this little teachable moment?  I learned to turn on my computer’s automatic backup, that almost everyone loses a computer document at least once and writing a second blog about my time on the trail with Carolyn was a pleasure and allowed me more time to contemplate the wisdom of a very strong woman.

Blog two coming up!  Even though it was a gray, overcast morning, Carolyn showed up at my house bright and early.  By the time we arrived at the trailhead a light drizzle was falling but that didn’t dampen our spirits or our conversation in the least.  As we crossed the field leading to the woods, we could tell fall was approaching because, except for purple thistle and goldenrod, there weren’t many wildflowers. As we entered the woods, Carolyn said she was excited to be hiking for the first time since her youth when she attended Camp Hebron in Halifax, Pennsylvania. At 70 years of age, lots of Carolyn’s friends and family were concerned about her hiking the AT and advised her to be careful on the trail.  Carolyn, who is extremely self-assured, was not worried in the least.  Confident in her hiking ability, she said, “Let’s go. I’m ready, slow but sure is the key!”

As we walked and talked, our steps fell into a rhythm which seemed to be matched by the soothing sound of water dripping from the trees.  Though I’ve known Carolyn for more than 10 years, until the day of our hike, I never had the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with her. It was such a pleasure to hear the story of her life. I asked Carolyn where and how she grew up. We bonded over the fact that we are both from big families.  Carolyn is one of eight siblings and I’m one of nine. And we are both the third born, which of course, everyone knows is BEST!  I don’t really believe this, but I’ve been saying this to tease my siblings for 64 years and I’m not going to stop now!

Carolyn was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in a family that loved to read books.  As a child, she developed a talent and passion for telling stories. Her imaginative tales were a great source of family entertainment and her siblings would gather around to listen and then beg her to tell “one more story.” Much later, as a mother and grandmother, Carolyn would delight first her sons and then her grandchildren with stories, telling stories and some tales that would become emotional touchstones for all three generations.  At my urging, as walked down the incline toward the lichen-covered wall, she told me the tale of the “Toe Tree.” So imaginative and creative was the story that as I took her picture in front of the lichen-covered wall, I could easily imagine Carolyn crafting a story to explain Mother Nature’s lovely green mural.

Hiking along, we noted the incredible variety of mushrooms that seemed to be growing everywhere: red, white, black, orange, and brown. Their different colors and textures made the woods seem more beautiful and vibrant. As we crossed the powerline field, we agreed that if people could marvel at and appreciate the diversity of people in the same way the world would be a much better place.

Heading down hill, I asked Carolyn if she had a favorite quote or advice, she thought was worth sharing with others. Her reply was quick, “I’ve always tried to remember Winston Churchill words, ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.’” I should have known this is what she would say. Carolyn is a giver. She has been involved in the community in so many ways it is difficult to remember them all. Carolyn has long attended Zion Baptist Church where she is a member of the Daughters of Zion and the hospitality ministry. As a volunteer, she taught reading alongside Ruth Ann Monroe at Memorial Recreation, from the beginning was instrumental in supporting the Community Partnership Thanksgiving Dinner and is a long-time member and current Vice President of the RWJCC Board of Directors.

I first met Carolyn when I attended Coffee, Chat & Bingo in my role as Community Outreach Coordinator for Hospice of Washington County.  Carolyn, as usual was orchestrating the bi-monthly gatherings that revolved around connecting with friends, sharing a meal, playing bingo and best of all winning prizes.  I don’t think any of us needed the prizes, but we enjoyed the bragging rights!   The members of the group were warm and friendly and made me feel welcomed. When my mother was dying of breast cancer, the members would ask how she was doing and how I was holding up.  When I cried, they hugged me; when she died, they supported me, sending me handwritten notes that I still have.  When I left my position at Hospice, I stayed with Coffee Chat. My friends at Coffee Chat are stuck with me…I’m never leaving.

Continuing down the trail we came to a downed tree crossing the trail that I guess fell during Hurricane Ida.  As we scrambled over its trunk, I asked Carolyn about her life in Hagerstown.  After falling in love with Danny Sterling in 1971, she married him and moved to Hagerstown. Together, Carolyn and Danny built a beautiful home in Williamsport and an even more beautiful life, which included their two sons Bam and Tyree. Carolyn grew quiet for a few minutes and then said, “This is a tender time of year for me.” She explained that Danny was killed in a tragic car accident on August 23, 1995 one month before his 47th birthday and a week before their wedding anniversary.

Wow, she is one strong woman. I asked her what helps her during her “tender times.”  Carolyn said that she is greatly comforted by her faith and relies on the words of Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” As I took Carolyn’s photo as she struck the “strong woman” pose, she was smiling.  I know for certain her Lord was smiling, too!

We made it down to the stream at Warner Hollow and witnessed more of nature’s power.  The planks that cross the stream had been partially washed away due to the recent storms. We took a couple of photos but didn’t linger too long because the way back almost always takes longer…it’s uphill, after all.

Trudging up the incline, we talked about our careers: the joys, the struggles, the up and the downs.  Carolyn has had many different jobs and in keeping with her motto, has learned a great deal in each position. She worked for 15 years in administration, and then, at Hagerstown Junior College where she helped retrain displaced workers before taking a position at the Department of Juvenile Services.  She enjoyed them all but found her passion working at Turning Point. For more than 20 years, Carolyn’s compassion and sense of purpose made her an invaluable employee as she advocated for those with mental health needs. Obviously, Carolyn was focused on making a life as much as making a living!

As Carolyn said at the outset of the hike, our progress back to the car was slow but sure. I updated her on my children and grandchildren and told her I was looking forward to the birth of another grandbaby next month.  Carolyn told me about her two sons, Bam and Tyree and her three grandchildren.  When I asked if she got to see her sons very often, she replied, “Every week I spend a little one-on-one time with each of them; Tyree on Tuesday and Bam on Wednesday.” Both in her community involvement, her volunteer work and with her own family, Carolyn is so intentional in connecting with others.  Get this…she also has a weekly virtual book discussion with her grandson!  On our hike I learned a lot from and about Carolyn.  So impressed with her desire and commitment to nurture the relationships with those she loves, I decided to give her a new nickname. As we approached the car, I said, “‘Carolyn the Connector’, thanks for hiking with and inspiring me!”

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