“You can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” – Cheryl Strayed
Last Saturday, I had the privilege of hosting a wedding shower for my sister-in-law (read: sister), Julianna. The space enveloping us was rustic and lovely — burlap and lace lining the tables; chandeliers casting a warm light through glass mason-jar fixtures; bouquets of wax flowers and purple poms tucked between tiny tin candles (the sweetest favors), and handwritten place cards welcoming each guest.
It was unseasonably cold, even for April, even for Ohio, and a pristine snow shower whirled outside the windows with all the vigor of Christmas morning. Inside, we wore wedges revealing toes painted in summery hues, sipped cups of pink moscato punch garnished with wild blueberries. We dined on caprese skewers, the most delicious spinach dip, salad with avocado and goat cheese, and sweet vanilla cupcakes. We strung a floral garland proclaiming Almost Married and played a well-loved handful of familiar songs on repeat: Fleetwood Mac, Brandi Carlile, Norah Jones. It was wonderful, such a delight to see each tiny, lacy, violet-hued, chalkboard-style dream a reality–and, in the moment, to also let the details be what they would. To suddenly, beautifully, let go and join in the celebration of one of the loveliest human beings I know, haloed by her family and friends, each of us delighting in her and her happiness.
On Sunday, after all the excitement, I slept deeply and late — something I hardly ever do, and it was luxurious. By some strange miracle, the dogs slept in, too, and gifted us a quiet, slow morning that unspooled like sunlight across the floorboards, turning golden as the day awakened.
In the afternoon, we ventured into the woods for a different kind of awakening. We sought a sudden change of scene: a muddy, hilly, gravelly, puddle-wonderful, chilly trail run.
At first, as we descended down the path between the bare trees–rebelliously ignoring a sign stating “trail temporarily closed,” due to wet conditions–I felt both ridiculous and stunted, slowed and out of my element. I was fearful of falling and resentful of the mess, the slippery slopes, the innumerable mud puddles and protruding roots and fallen tree branches that seemed to form a tiny forest of their own, at my feet–sprawling unapologetically across the narrow path, seeming to thwart me purposely. And I almost laughed, realizing how the the wildness and dismal surroundings, blustery and brown, looking like November for all anyone knew, couldn’t have been more opposing to the previous day, when I wore a lace dress and rose-petal-pink jewelry and actually blow-dried my hair and performed all my maid-of-honor duties in heels. (A choice that was now causing my calves to cramp and complain, especially as I scrambled uphill, feet flailing out wildly behind me as they met the muddy path. Hello, glamorous.)
But for some silly or necessary reason I kept going, even with the very real possibility of falling, heeding Brice’s advice to keep my eyes just two or three feet ahead and scan for rocks and roots and water, taking higher steps or crisscrossing the path as needed. Soon enough, the close concentration drew me in, partly because it was new to me–when I run through neighborhoods or on paved paths, I rarely have need to look so directly ahead. But somehow, after a while, the difficult but engaging rhythm calmed me, and I began to embrace the trail’s unfamiliar cadence as it, in turn, enveloped me.
The new terrain forced me to focus closely and intensely enough on what was directly before me, so that I didn’t have room or energy to let my mind wander elsewhere. It rooted me to the moment, completely, utterly, in a very physical and simple way. I had to, again, let the details be what they would be, look ahead but not too far, and just run, just keep going.
The previous afternoon, even though I was fatigued from arranging flowers and assembling bridal bingo prizes and (okay, fine) sipping white wine with my sister Katie into the wee hours, I also did my best to be present, to enjoy the sweet, small moments rather than be distracted by any tiny imperfections–to let them recede, and instead look at the lovely faces of the people just two or three feet in front of me. Rooted, awake, present. Looking for beauty, giving myself the inner space to breathe, and be.
In the woods, with the cold wind on my cheeks and the uneven ground beneath my feet, something outside of me beckoned me into being. When I paid attention, it showed me how to be present in a different way, in a sort of dialogue as opposed to my own internal efforts reflecting on my surroundings. It felt like a tonic, this new cadence, like a gift I didn’t know I was longing for, like a prayer, like grace.