I have seemed to find answers to life’s perplexities by walking in “Godly places”. Just where do we find such places? They are all around us!
As a child I enjoyed walking down streams of water that flowed from concrete drains that were used to keep the streets from flooding during heavy rains storms. They became permanent little rivers—sometimes still, sometimes flowing. Swishing my feet in the cool water on hot summer days created a feeling of peace and well-being. I’d search the still waters for pollywogs and enjoyed the feel of green moss beneath my feet. I found myself creating songs and singing them to the imagined friendly creatures lurking nearby. Perhaps Bambi and Thumper were watching. It taught me to enjoy nature. My older brother, Dick, found out that Bob and I were doing this together, and he was appalled. He called it a gutter and felt it unsafe. It was not his Godly place. It was mine.
After one particularly heavy rain storm a deep section of that gutter system enticed the neighbor children to swim in the current. Who started it, no one seemed to know, but kids came running from all directions pulling their mothers along to observe which created a semblance of safety. I too begged my mom to let me join in the fun not sensing the danger. I suddenly felt the current sweep me in the direction where the water went under the roadway while my mother watched in horror. A man’s strong arm reached for me not many feet from the impending disaster. He must have been there for a “Godly purpose”. After that the other swimmers avoided the same peril by leaving. That taught me to be more observant of dangers that life poses. Even into my adult life, I would find myself searching my surroundings for possible dangers and decide ahead of time what I would do in emergencies.
When I was a young teen my mother had the opportunity to spend three summer months visiting her family in Massachusetts while Dad went on TDY (temporary duty). My brothers and I accompanied her. We found ourselves having to stay into the fall school year, because our car needed extensive repairs when it accidentally rolled down a hill and was struck by another car. We were required by state law to attend school even though it would be just a few weeks before we could leave. The school requirements were more stringent than that of the southern states where we lived and the language differences made us a curiosity to the other classmates. They would encircle me on the school grounds wanting to hear my southern drawl or argue with my brothers about the Civil War.
Our problems were compounded by the fact that we were staying with my widowed Aunt Ethie who had seven kids of her own and a slew of neighbor kids who considered her their second mother. I found that I needed a quiet place to mull over my relationships with my cousins and how to deal with their behavior that was quite different than what my parents had expected from me. They were raised by a lenient single mom and I had an Air Force Sargent for a Dad. Since our visits with them had been a once a year or even less often experience, my coping skills needed fine tuning. I found my answers by walking the seawall along the Atlantic Ocean. The rhythmic in and out movement of the waves and the blue skies with birds floating on the ocean breezes seemed to be a form of relaxing meditation that brought peace to my soul and encouragement to face my problems.
Water always seemed to attract me to it like a siren in Greek mythology—those sea nymphs who’s singing lured sailors to their deaths on rocky coasts. But the lure of the shore line saved me from the clamor and confusion of everyday life. In my late teen years we lived in Biloxi, Mississippi which is on the Gulf of Mexico. In the summer months I had a full time job at my family’s laundry business. At that time most business places closed on Wednesday afternoons—sort of a southern siesta. (Can you believe that!) That was the day I headed for the beach to enjoy long walks along the shoreline. I would search for small fish, crabs or the almost invisible shrimp in the shallow water near rocky areas. If other beach combers headed my way, I hoped they wouldn’t break the solitude I was enjoying.
After a long stroll by myself, l would join friends that gathered at a local hotel pier. We would spread our beach towels side by side on the sand to soak up the sun. The breeze always seemed to be cool even in the summer heat. Watching the ever present clouds floating overhead mesmerized me and gave me pause to meditate again and again. This was my commune with God. On the way home, screaming seagulls would amuse me as they swooped down on returning shrimp boats at sunset. Such simple things gave life meaning.
During our courtship in New Orleans, walking was a way of escaping prying eyes when I spent weekends, away from college life, with Tom’s family. The long walks in the neighborhood afforded us time to share our dreams for a future together. After marriage, when we were discovering just how to appease cultural differences that sometimes clashed, we continued our walks. Not wanting to plaster our apartment walls with unresolved tension we knew that being outside seemed to help our problems dissipate. We both felt that God presided there. When I conceived our first child, neighborhood walks gave me opportunity to shout praises to the Lord for our blessings.
After Brian was born, Tom returned to his studies at Southeastern Louisiana College in Hammond. Money was scarce, so walking was our entertainment. Tom shared with me his new knowledge of astronomy and we began to understand the glory of God’s creations.
I could go on and on about how walking and talking to God enriched our lives. We enjoyed the glorious vegetation, flowers and seashore up close in the Bahamas as we walked in early mornings for exercise while serving a church mission there. One glorious morning we decided to sing “How Great Thou Art”. Just when we got to the words “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder…” right on cue the sound of thunder surprised us. It was like God telling us that he was listening. We enjoyed the island homes painted various colors from pastels to bright shades. The fish in Caribbean crystal clear waters were also a rainbow of color. They looked like the aquariums fish we enjoyed in doctor offices back home. We found it almost sinful for the local people to eat them! The sky there was so clear and beautiful. It was easy to feel God’s presence.
When we returned home to Benton, we were finally retired! Our neighbors would wave as they headed out to work while we walked each morning. They came to recognize us as the ones who helped keep God’s world beautiful by bagging trash as we walked. Several years later, when Tom passed away, it was observed that I walked alone. Many commented that he was missed. Now I not only talk to God while I walk, but to Tom telling him how much I miss him.
When I finally decided I needed a companion for my walks, I chose King Benjamin, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Now when I talk out loud intending for Tom or God to hear, I’m hoping the neighbors think I am talking to Bennie. People have come to realize that I am still keeping the neighborhood beautiful on my walks by bagging Bennie’s poop! It has gotten back to me that I am called by some in loving terms as “the bag lady”.
Margaret d’Aquin (February 28, 2015)