One chilly December day when I was eight years old, my father and I laughed as he pulled me on my sled along a snowy sidewalk. We were heading home from a morning of downhill sledding but as we came upon a small unseen patch of snowless sidewalk the sled stopped short and my head hit the pavement, cracking my two front teeth. As we tearfully made our way home, wandering from one side of the sidewalk to the other, I desperately clung to my father as he held me up, hugging me tightly. We would walk and stop and walk and stop as he looked into my face with a palpable sadness all the while murmuring heart-rending words of apology and remorse. His pain was the most painful part of that day for me. And that walk home and our path of healing over the days and years have taught me that life is never a straight line but really a winding pathway of renewal and possibility. I have come to believe that our journeys are really pathways of honor and along the way they glitter with opportunities for learning, reflection, and connection.
This past summer I took a Red Cross first aid class for a new job at a day camp. Here were twelve of us, a woman who worked at a homeless shelter, a grandfather whose 6 year old grandson was visiting for the summer, a babysitter, a life guard. One of the first things we were taught to do in an emergency was to ask the person in trouble, “May I help you?” Here we were, joining together one early summer day, each on our own winding path, wanting to step outside ourselves to attend to another. Whatever our circumstances we could do this; we could reach out and feel the sunshine of connection and comfort. “May I help you?”
And here is my father with his arms around me, reaching out, being vulnerable, and holding and comforting me on our way home. And here is his broken heart, but also here is this man with a heart of gold whose aid I could perhaps come to. And our bond, over the span of time, brought a poignancy and empathy to everything for us. Several weeks into summer camp, after a rainy afternoon full of fun indoor games, the children sat down in a circle to color and draw. One little girl drew a tall mountain with a person at the bottom about to climb up. A nine year old across from her called out and said, “That mountain is too high, she should just take an elevator!” “Or an escalator!” a seven year old piped in. “Or an alligator!” chimed in a four year old. In time modern dentistry gave me back my smile but most of all my smile was given back to me by my father’s healed heart and by the understanding that the beauty of our winding paths is so much better than any elevator, escalator, and definitely better than any alligator.