This week, I had a conversation with a colleague who asked about my recent weekend away. I shared that my husband, 2 labradors and I spent 3 days hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. She was unfamiliar with the experience and therefore the questions flowed.
“How far do you hike each day?”
“What do you eat and where do you sleep?”
“What do you do if it rains?”
As a matter of fact, it rained during our weekend hike, bringing back memories of a very wet hike last spring. In May 2017, my husband, youngest daughter, pups and I spent 7 days on the AT, hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Deep Gap, North Carolina. It rained for the first 4 days. Actually, it poured. The skies opened up and buckets of water pelted the earth, turning the trail into a stream. We donned rain coats and pants and covered our packs with water proof shells.
“Wow!” my colleague said. “That must have been the WORST THING EVER!”
Her comment made me pause. Hiking in the rain is certainly a challenge. There were times during those 4 days when I prayed for sunshine. There were times when I was frustrated because I didn’t have a dry spot to sort through my pack for a needed item. And there were times when I was uncomfortable because I was both sweaty and chilly. But “the worst thing ever”? Not by a long shot.
Losing my mother when I was 26 and pregnant with my first child tops my “worst” list. My father was devastated to be a widower at the age of 49. My younger siblings looked to me for support. I hadn’t yet learned how to be a mother, and yet I stepped into the role of caring for my 13 year old brother while preparing to give birth to my first son. I had so many questions to ask my mom, but she was no longer able to answer them.
Illness has challenged my family on far too many occasions. Each of my 4 children battles a chronic condition. Seeing them sick, frightened, confused and striving for health is heart wrenching. Seeing the fear in their eyes as I battled my own health challenges was almost unbearable. Watching my husband trying to be strong for all of us was the hardest of all.
Hiking in the rain is like the journey of life. At times, the rain is so heavy that you feel weighed down, sluggish and mired in the mud. The pounding water forces you to keep your head down, narrowing your view of the world. You struggle to take steps forward, but the muck slows your pace until you feel like you will always be stuck in one spot.
And then, when you think the rain will go on forever, it stops and the sun shines brightly. Trees, flowers and ferns sparkle as if they are coated with diamond dust. The landscape appears fresh and new. The air smells fragrant and clean. Waterfalls, streams and creeks filled with the abundant rain water, gush powerfully, creating a new energy along the trail. A sense of relief and pride for weathering the storm replaces the feelings of despair and frustration.
In life, the difficult times are the rain storms, sometimes causing a feeling like there is no end to the downpour. But the rain always stops, allowing us to see the sun that has been consistently shining behind the dark clouds. It is during the rain that we set our resolve to carry on, knowing that life is not static. Difficult times are replaced with periods of peace, love and, eventually, joy. When the clouds disappear, it is easier to see the beauty on the trail and the beauty in our lives. As hard as it may be to live through the torrential downpours in our lives, there is always the knowledge and faith that better times lay ahead.
I will always miss my mom and the activities that we never got to share: celebrating my children’s milestones, enjoying holidays and just chatting about the mundane. Knowing that she is without pain for all eternity is the sunshine. I am conscious of and concerned about my family’s health, but live in the light of knowledge, understanding how to manage and treat and prevent future issues. I know that rain will someday come again into my life. Until that time, I will celebrate the sunshine and know that, even when the storms arise, the sun, the peace and the joy will also return, more vividly than the rain.