My hometown of Nashville is blessed with the Warner Parks, over 3,000 lush acres of forest and field. Recently my old college friend and I took our dogs on a hike there. She wanted to walk a trail unknown to me. We decided to go three miles: I had dinner guests coming over and we thought three miles was a good limit for female and canine feet, especially given the humidity.
Before long we were deep in conversation, bouncing around from topic to topic like the ubiquitous gnats biting our arms. By the time we hit the 1.5 mile mark we had solved all but one of the world’s problems and I suggested we turn around. She insisted we were making a circle, that we would loop around and come out near where we parked.
Ours is a friendship decades in the making. There is something intangibly special about a friend who knew you when you were still forming, when you had other loves– someone who knew your parents when they were the age you are now… who has lived through the cycles and passages of your years. I would trust Tracy with my life but I should never have trusted her with this route. Over an hour later, we realized how lost we were. Our dogs’ tongues were cussing us. With each turn we anticipated the clearing, but the shadows simply increased as we forged deeper and deeper into the woods.
At one point, a group of hikers passing by offered to help. When we described where our car was parked, their expressions revealed just how far we had strayed. Finally we found our way to a road (almost 5 miles from our starting point) and Tracy’s husband came to our rescue in his air conditioned SUV. The look on his face said this would be a story for the ages… as if we needed any more anecdotes to fill the scrapbook of our friendship.
It strikes me that if you have to be lost in the woods, you want to have a friend around. Two nights after our walk, I received a call around 11pm from an old boyfriend whose mother had passed away. I loved her like a second mother and even after it was obvious that she would never be my mother-in-law, she still felt like one to me. The handmade linens she made me for each baby girl are treasures carefully stored. The world was better, I was better, because she was in it. Although I’m relieved that she is free from her three-year battle with cancer, her departure makes the world a little smaller; its light has paled a bit.
I was glad my friend called to tell me—that he reached out knowing that I would share his pain. I could tell from his voice that he felt lost. How many of us have days, weeks, years where we feel lost to life—without a clear compass and with no glimpse of a major road ahead. A dear friend lost her mother recently; another friend spends sleepless nights worried about her child, and still another wonders if there is any part of her marriage that can be redeemed. Sickness, pain, grief, loneliness, loss: all of these Pandoran plagues can make us lose ourselves, lose our way.
The truth is that there is no way out of the woods alone: We must rely on our friends; they are our human breadcrumbs. There is no magic behind the number of friends you have; undoubtedly popularity is a vapid notion conceived of by someone who was lost herself. Here’s my theory: If there is one person in your life whom you can call around midnight, one person who knows you better than you know yourself, you are blessed, and they can lead you out of the woods– no matter how overgrown, how foreboding that forest may look.
Henry David Thoreau, of Walden Pond fame, wrote that, “If any part of nature excites our pity, it is for ourselves we grieve, for there is eternal health and beauty.” While we are lost in the metaphorical woods of our lives, we need a friend to follow along—to remind us that there is a beautiful world of “eternal healthy and beauty” beckoning us, and that happiness can be just around the next turn. Thoreau went to the woods because he wanted to “live deliberately.” I have to believe that part of that deliberate living includes wandering off the beaten path—getting lost and being found. Would the sun-drenched clearing be as spectacular had we not first walked a path shrouded in trees? Can we really appreciate Joy without partaking of its evil twin, Anguish?
Today Tracy and I are returning to the woods—to retake the path and try to right our previous mistakes. Our dogs are newly confident. I have to have faith, for all of us, that our journeys through the woods will open into a clearing resplendent with sunlight.
But I’m tempted to take along Siri, just in case.