Yesterday, in the sequestration program adopted across the US, I stayed at home. I said my prayers, I wrote in my daybook, I made the bed, I hosted a “drop in” zoom conference for clergy. I read a chapter from Fleming Rutledge’s collection of sermons for Holy Week, The Undoing of Death.
I ate a protein bar for breakfast.
I played with the cat. (My cat. Glenn’s cat won’t come near me. Maybe she is self-isolating, feline-style.)
And then, I decided to go for a hike. (Glenn is away on a trip.)
I love to hike. Glenn and I hike frequently when our schedule -and his knee- allow it.
There’s a section of the Appalachian Trail that we hike at times when we just have an hour or two and don’t want to think too hard. This section of the trail begins five miles away in the village of Boiling Springs. There’s an easy place to park the car and a short walk to the trailhead. The trail is mostly flat and goes through woods and along a cornfield. An easy walk to the next road crossing is just 2 miles, and as an out-and-back, it is an ideal short hike.
And so I filled up a water bottle, threw on my boots and made my way.
A nice guy leaving the post office shouted “Have a nice hike!” as I locked my car and shrugged on my pack. I don’t know why that touched me. It was a normal greeting, but made more friendly, maybe, in this time of sequestering. He knew what I was up to: wanting to sequester, but sick of being alone at home.
I started out on the trail and no more than 1/4 mile in, that feeling came over me.
Now, if you are a woman, my guess is that you know the feeling. The feeling of uneasiness, of wariness, that puts one’s head on a swivel.
Women don’t travel alone in the woods. Even in the tame suburbs of bucolic Boiling Springs.
I didn’t use ear buds because I wanted to hear everything around me. Including any sudden intruders.
I looked behind me every couple of minutes. Head on a swivel.
When I was a senior in college, one of my best friends went to Denver, Colorado for an internship during our winter break. Just a couple of weeks into her stay, Helene was abducted off of a commuter bus, taken to a secluded area, raped, stabbed and murdered. The killer made off. My friends and I sang at her funeral in a large, cold, cavernous Roman Catholic Church somewhere in Massachusetts. I never got to see her body. There was no closure. I clung for years to the small candlestick that she had given to me as a Christmas gift just a couple of weeks before she died, and a small collage that she had made for me as a testament to our friendship.
When I am alone, I think about her violent end.
I look behind me when I hike.
I look behind the shower curtain before I go to bed when I am home alone.
I keep the doors locked.
I wonder if this fear will ever leave me.
About 2 months ago, by some miracle of DNA testing and ancestry.com, Helene’s killer was found. 40 years later, in a Florida bar, a beer glass with his spit on it led ambitious and persistent detectives to track him down and arrest him. He confessed. He will be sentenced next month.
I don’t feel better. I hope the killer does not receive the death penalty because I don’t believe in taking a life for the life of another. Theologian John McQuarrie wrote: “Where there is life, there is hope.” I believe that.
And when this man is either dead or behind bars for life, I still don’t think that I’ll be able to hike without looking behind me or retire without sweeping the shower curtain open to check for stealthy intruders. That makes me sad, and that makes me angry that my life has been altered this way.
My mother was widowed in her thirties with three young children. Her life’s narrative was one of survival. She was widowed again, in her sixties. She lived alone for the rest of her years, most of them in a rambling house at the end of a dirt road on one of those bits of land that juts out into the ocean on Casco Bay. I wonder if she was afraid, ever? She wrote poetry, sketched in pastel and pencil, read the classics, did the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and listened to Robert J. Lutsema on NPR through her old brown Sony radio. I listen on the same radio, today, in my kitchen.
She was one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever known.
And so, I keep hiking. Sometimes alone. I keep on doing things that are hard, and that scare me, because I will not be paralyzed by fear.
I take on hard projects. I step up when asked to do things that I don’t know how to do. I oversee a diocese that has put its trust in me to do my very best.
I say my prayers, and I lace up my boots.
Today I will go hiking again. It is cold and rainy and it would be easier to take a gentle walk around my neighborhood with a pocket full of dog biscuits and a podcast playing through my ear buds. But I will go to the trail and keep my head on a swivel, because I will not be bound by fear.
Stay safe. Say your prayers. And all shall be well.