The “To” Step
Standing upright with wobbling knees, shaking nerves and a loss of balance, I move forward with resistance in my soul. I thought at this point in life, walking would be easy. Walking is that great moment in your history that your loved ones anticipate with trigger ready lenses. Somewhere along the way walking through life, even in a literal sense can present challenges you never dreamed would hold your feet to the pavement like hot tar. This is my experience, my experience in walking.
Walks have become the fundraisers of our time. There seems to be a walk almost any weekend of the year raising money for a good cause. Although a cancer survivor myself, I hadn't ever participated in a walk, that is until this fall, when my husband suggested we be apart of the team his employer was putting together for the local breast cancer walk. I quickly agreed when I found out it was exactly one year from the anniversary of my best friend's passing. She had fought a long, honorable fight with breast cancer. I had secretly hoped it would be a healing experience for me and each step might make a mark on my spirit about the life experience she and I had shared. It was to be a time of contemplation and remembrance.
The Saturday arrived and with almost an hour drive to the walk, we left at dawn. Dreary eyed, I started to peel the banana I had grabbed as my “to go” breakfast. With each peel of the skin I was mentally transported to another early morning, but this time with her, my soul mate, my Amy. It was also October, but 15 years earlier. A cool Kentucky autumn wedding had been her dream and she was beaming in her dress in the church basement. I kept creeping up and around the stairs, awaiting the cue for the bride's entrance. I came back to her dressing room to find her mom gazing with love and satisfaction at her only daughter, adorned in youthful beauty.
The moment overtook me, watching her reflection in the mirror, but Amy would have no part in tearful admiration, she had a smile on her face and a half eaten banana in her hand. “This is my third one today, I love bananas...” Then she let out one of her charming laughs. A laugh I could pick out of a crowd and still replay in my mind almost daily. It could illuminate even the gloomiest ears...
“Are you okay?” asked a voice from the driver's seat, waking me from my reminiscent daydream. My husband, knowing the magnitude of the weekend, must have caught a glimpse of the warm tears bursting quietly from my eyes and down my cheeks. I assured him I was fine and finished the banana that had surprisingly sparked deep emotions that I had only rehearsed having while walking a 5K with a thousand other souls.
Arriving at the park, the chaos of bodies derailed my quiet contemplation. Once the walk began, I refocused on my intent, to reflect on life with Amy. I laughed to myself as I felt the pavement under my shoes. The hard concrete pressing the sole of my foot while rough reality pressed my soul. Walking had been the highlight of my afternoon when we first befriended each other. Every afternoon we would walk down the sidewalk after school. We'd share stories and Amy would listen with great encouragement to my latest poetic achievement. Each step moved us forward, although less than a year after our friendship blossomed my steps took me through a dark valley of bone cancer. She never left my path, she walked beside me and we both grew stronger.
As my family and I continued our walk in the warm, Florida sun, our pace would start to slow. I would drag myself and family by a small burst of energy- telling them, “If you slow down, you get tired!”. Just like the walk, had Amy and I slowed we would have tired of our circumstances. Finally, hearing her tell me she was diagnosed with cancer was a full circle moment of life. She had walked me through chemo, hair loss, emotional distressing moments, now it was my turn. Time and circumstance had moved us to geographical distances, but I wanted to repay my friend with support, although I always felt that I might fall short of the level of devotion she had set years before.
Years of walking toward decisions, walking to hear results, walking to accomplishments or mistakes paved the story of our lives. These are just some of the things that paved my story with Amy. Working through growing pains, loving across miles, being the person who said, “it's time” as she took her life changing walk down an aisle towards the man she loved, on that October day in Kentucky. This among other steps in time has melted into my soul as one of the most honorable walks of my life. This step was strangely trumped last October when I was asked to represent Amy's friends and speak some final thoughts at her funeral.
Of all the walks that have caused me to feel weak, that one was the most debilitating. I read the order of service, knowing my turn to speak was quickly approaching, I clutched the notes in my hand, breathed deeply, took the first step out into the aisle-there was no turning back. I spoke with as much strength as I could gather from the prayers I knew had been prayed for peace in our hearts. Sharing a poem that I had written to honor Amy just a week before (at the time I wrote it I hadn't dreamed she would never read it, she walked out of this life the very next day) didn't seem sufficient to sum up a life, nothing ever does. It was something that summed up who we were as people, as friends, as women. What an honor to have walked a million steps with her as a friend. It is an honor we all carry as we walk along side those we love.
As we rounded the last corner of our charity walk, I couldn't help but make continued parallels to life. I grabbed the hand of my faithful husband of 16 years and looked at our two, at this point, tired teenage children. They had supported me through this very tangible walk, but they also work to strengthen me through this intangible walk of life. I found happiness in the truth that I am walking through life, on hard ground, soft soil and everything in between with more memories to come; all the while carrying with me the memories of those who have walked beside me in the past, pouring themselves into my life. These loved ones have a hand in molding us into who we are and make our lives a very rich adventure. Walk on, sweet Amy!