I walked across the highway and stepped back in time

This is my second day at the ranch and it’s a beautiful day as South Dakota winter days go. Forty degrees and sunny, with a chilly breeze. I decided it was a perfect day for a walk, and even before I made it up the hill leading away from the house, I knew it would be more than just a walk. It would be healing. It needed to be healing.

I’ve been heartbroken once. Recently, I went through another failed relationship, and while I can’t say that I was broken, I was bruised. I was hurt enough to have a few tearful days and some bitterness. Today I’m content, but not yet at peace. I’m limping back into cautious optimism, but I’m not there yet. So I set out on today’s walk, seeking healing.

I first walked south, past the barns and shops, past all the ranch vehicles and horse trailers and tractors, toward the mailbox at the highway. It’s about a mile long walk to the highway, and all the way there and all the way back, I just thought. I looked inward and I thought. I searched for fault in my actions and lapses in my judgment with this most recent relationship. I searched for the answer to the question ‘what should I have done differently’. I didn’t find the answer, maybe because I was not at fault… or maybe because I can’t yet see the forest through the trees.

I made it back to the barns and shops and decided I wasn’t done yet. So I headed west, up the other gravel road that leads away from the house. I walked past Dad’s cows on my right. They barely looked up at me as I walked by. Then I walked past the two-year old heifers on my left, on the other side of a barbed wire fence. They’re young, pregnant for the first time, and “spooky”. I sneezed and one heifer jumped, causing the entire herd of them to turn and run away from me, toward no particular destination. A few hundred yards later, I came to the highway again, and the “Blair ranch” sign leading into Dad’s place. I stopped and waved at a semi with a load of hay bales driving by. Then I crossed.

Halfway across the highway, I decided that I would walk to the old house… my childhood home… and see what state it was in after being empty for a number of years. So halfway across the highway, I had the distinct feeling of stepping back in time. I had made that walk a hundred times as a little girl, between our house and Grandpa’s, and here I was, walking it again. I slowed down and took it in. I walked past the little pond that I skipped a million stones across. It was iced over, but a layer of water was over the ice. I picked up a stone and threw it high in the air to see if it would break through the ice. It didn’t. I picked up a bigger stone, and then a bigger one.

The ice was solid though, and I walked on, leaving rocks scattered across the frozen pond. I walked up the hill above the pond toward the old house. As I walked up the hill I asked myself what I was searching for, not just today, on this walk, but in general. The answer I gave myself was ‘the happiness I felt as a child’. But even as the thought crossed my mind, I knew that I’d never find it. The happiness that children feel comes from being innocent and unburdened by life’s stresses (if they’re lucky enough to have a stable home life). But after the first broken heart… after the first wound that leaves a scar… that happiness can’t be regained. A new one must be found.

I found myself standing in the shop at the old house. This is where my first buck was mounted on the wall. This is where my dad taught me to fix a flat tire before I was allowed to drive a car. This is where we built Mom’s picnic table and where Dad came running from when I crashed my bike into the cattle guard nearby on the day I (sort-of) learned to ride a bike. I kept walking, and crossed that cattle guard, looking down at the iron slats that permanently scarred my forehead. I walked up the driveway to the old house. The little shed where our dogs always slept was still there but the tree house Dad built us was gone. The lawn had turned to weeds and the house didn’t look welcoming anymore. I went in anyway. I didn’t shut the door behind me.

For several minutes, I just stood inside the doorway. It was my house, but it wasn’t. It smelled musty and unlived in. It was dirty and empty and different. But I stood there and allowed a million memories to wash over me, and I let the new sights and smells give way to the old ones. Once again I could smell lemon Pinesol from Mom’s cleaning. I could smell supper in the oven.

(In rural South Dakota, the meals are breakfast, dinner, and supper. If lunch is a home-cooked meal, it’s called dinner. If it’s just a sandwich, it might be called lunch.)

It was no longer there, but I could see the TV stand Dad made and mounted, holding up the old TV with knobs to change channels and rabbit ears to find stations. I could see the orange carpeting and ugly wood paneling on the walls. I could hear laughter at the dinner table. I walked into my old bedroom, just past the kitchen and turned a circle in the middle of the room, amazed at how small it seemed. Even the closet seemed tiny… the closet I made into my personal hideout where I would read. I stared at the floor of it, seeing myself as a little girl, with a lamp for light, a pillow and blanket for comfort, and a stack of books that I couldn’t wait to soak up. It didn’t seem tiny then.

I did this with every room in the house, until I was thoroughly lost in a previous lifetime, and I was hesitant to stop when I made my way to the end of the second story of the house. No more house to walk through. So I slowly made my way back out, and stood just inside the door for a few more minutes before stepping back outside. I closed the door, put my headphones back in, and started walking back toward the highway. Back toward today.

I said before that I was seeking healing… and happiness. As I made my way back to the highway I brought God into the introspection I was doing. And I started saying my favorite prayer, the Our Father. There’s a part that always resonates with me.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….  Lord, forgive me and help me forgive. Help me let go of the bitterness, because it feels like poison inside me.

Lead us not into temptation… God there is so much temptation in the world. I struggle to recognize what temptations I should avoid. In seeking love, we face temptation. Isn’t it ok to move toward it? So far, that has only led to pain. How can I recognize when it is right?

…but deliver us from evil. Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day.  I pray for peace for others, but never for myself. Lord, today I’m asking for peace in my day.

In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety.  I always say that part twice. Lord, protect us from all anxiety, because I feel like once we leave childhood behind, it’s one anxiety after another, and it’s exhausting. This, I believe, is the greatest challenge we face as human beings. I believe it’s the reason we’re here… to accept the life we’re given and let go of the anxiety we feel. Trust in God that He has a plan for us, and that it is never what we assume (or want). That is the happiness I now seek… the freedom from anxiety.

More than an hour has passed and I’m about to go back down the hill to the new house. It’s time to bring this healing session to a close. It’s been good. I could use another hour but it will come, all in good time. Before I go home, though, I put one last song on my iPod (and think to myself that my iPod doesn’t belong in such a peaceful place).

Galileo.

“And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode, I try to trace them to my youth.

…I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime.

…How long till my soul gets it right? Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?”