“The best things happen unexpectedly.” This quote is all over Pinterest, so while I can’t attribute…
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” That is the exactly how I describe “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.” Each hike has afforded me many things: great exercise, a chance to connect with longtime friends and meet new ones, regular breaks to immerse myself in the beauty of nature and weekly opportunities to be inspired by my amazing hiking companions.
Prior to meeting Janice Hepburn, my hiking buddy for the 44th hike of the year, we had only communicated via Messenger. Janice reached out in July to schedule a time to hike so after four months, it was great to finally meet her in person! We stood by our cars putting on additional layers of clothing and even donning hats and gloves. Despite a sunny sky, the air was cold, and a light breeze blew, making it feel even colder. As we crossed Route 77, Janice, who regularly reads this blog, looked out over the field, and said, “It’s fun to see what I have only previously seen in pictures.” Yet her first sighting of the field was different from that of every other hiker! The temperature the night before our hike had dipped down to 28 degrees, so for the first time since spring, there was nary a flower in sight. However, the vista was beautiful. With the sun still rising, the long grass on the edge of the trail was white with frost and the colors of the trees in the distance showed signs of winter’s approach.
As we entered the woods, I asked Janice about her family. She attended Duke University in North Carolina, where she studied economics and met her husband, Matt, who is a physician. “Hey” I said, “My husband is also a physician named Matt!” She has two children, a son named Michael and a daughter named Elizabeth. “Get out of town”, I said, “I have a son named Michael, a son who lived in Boulder, Colorado and a daughter named Elizabeth!” These similarities reminded me of when my son, Michael, on the first day of first grade, met a classmate that had the same birthday. That commonality was the basis for an instant friendship that has lasted over 30 year! I had the same feeling as I talked with Janice. I just knew that we would connect on so many levels…and I was right!
The beauty of the woods in late fall is more subtle and requires a more attentive eye. Janice and I especially appreciated the small, bright red berries hanging from a shrub with dark gray bark and delicate green leaves. We were curious about an abundance of little, off-white puffy seed pods that littered the trail but couldn’t figure out what plant they came from. Perhaps the most surprising nature sighting of the day was an old snag covered with black and white fungus, which for all the world looked like chocolate brownies topped with vanilla and caramel ice cream. Don’t worry, we didn’t eat any, but I was inspired to bake some brownies when I got home!
Janice and I walked, and we talked. Heading down the trail toward the lichen-covered rock wall, we covered many subjects including family dynamics and the importance of effective communications. As I took her photo by the wall, Janice began sharing her experience of growing up in the South, with a father who was a Methodist minister and where politeness mattered! She explained, that much of the time, though opinions and expectations weren’t explicitly stated, she was expected to infer the rules, embrace the cultural norms, and tow the line.
As a child she, and her brother, who was only 13 months older, loved spending time with and helping their maternal grandparents. Janice always wished she could have spent more time working side by side with her grandfather in the garden, but she was only permitted to tackle traditional female domestic chores, like sewing and cooking. Some traditions are difficult to change.
Years later, she and her family would experience something much more difficult. Her brother, during his senior year in college was tragically killed in a car accident. This horrific event rocked her world and that of her family. She grieved the death of her brother and the lingering trauma that forever changed her family. As we continued down the trail, I thought of the numerous workshops I have attended on trauma and its impact. Walking into my first workshop, I knew that trauma was an emotional response to a terrible event and that shock and denial are typical. Sitting at that conference, I learned that trauma can last for years and is sometimes stored in the body and can result in unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. I don’t know the extent or if Janice’s family experienced trauma, but I do know that my family experienced most of these symptoms when we almost lost a child to Long QT Syndrome.
Janice’s empathy and sympathy for her mom and dad were evident. She understands their desire to keep her, their only remaining child, close. She said, “I know they have good intentions.” Climbing up an incline, I shared with Janice my recent revelation. I said, “I’ve learned that there is a big difference between intentions and impact!” I’ve come to understand, regardless of a person’s motive, that what matters is how a comment or action lands. I’ve learned to say, “I know you were teasing but I felt hurt” or “I know you meant to be helpful, but I felt like you were judging me.” Verbalizing the difference between intention and impact in the same breath is very freeing! Janice was quiet for a few moments and then said, “I get that. That resonates with me. I’m going to remember that.”
We talked about our spouses, childrearing and how it changes as our kids become adults. I asked Janice what she has learned from her parenting experiences and she replied, “It’s important to let your kids fly the nest. My husband and I are very intentional about allowing our adult children space to live their lives, to pursue relationships that make them happy, to not judge their decisions and to make holiday plans that work for them.” Wow, that’s great advice for anyone with adult children! Reflecting on Janice’s guidance, I think it is important for me, as well as other parents, to give ourselves a break. We need to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect parents, but that we did our best; that we instill confidence in our children by trusting their judgement and that all the worry in the world won’t keep our children safe from harm. As Janice struck the “strong woman” pose I was so grateful for the chance to share our stories and learn from her!
Heading back to the car, Janice asked me all about Prime Time for Women, it’s mission and programs. I explained that PTFW is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization that is sustained by generous donation of women who understand the health benefits of connecting with other women. Janice replied, “That’s why I signed up to be part of ‘A Year of Hikes.’ I wanted to meet other women, hear their stories and share my own.” Of course, that is just a perfect way to end this blog because the Prime Time for Women’s motto is “Be Seen. Be Heard. Inspire.” I truly believe when ordinary women share their stories, talents and passions, extraordinary things happen!