Light and warmth filtered through the trees as the road wound its way through the winter wonderland. Occasional patches of ice had turned into groomed snow as my sister and I headed west, seeking opportunities to breathe in fresh air and reflect on the year we had proven could be lived well, regardless of circumstances.

We hadn’t been together for months, each navigating our respective careers as a teacher and a nurse, staying as healthy as possible through the ups and downs of the worldwide pandemic, living a year that I’m certain neither of us, nor the rest of the world, truly saw coming. A year filled with death and life, fires and floods, gains as well as losses. It was month after month of opportunities to watch the world we live in come undone, but at the same time, be put back together again. Essentially, it was a year filled with time and space that begged for solace.

The road narrowed, the snow deepened, and a path found alongside crystal clear water seemed to call out our names with each ripple and splash. Within minutes, we were parked alongside a road, strapping on snowshoes, and grabbing for sunglasses and stocking caps. My sister led the way as we crossed the tapered, yet far from precarious, bridge. My eyes moved from the left to the right, as well as up and down, finding everything about this winter trek strikingly impressive. It was a paradise of sorts. Snow instead of sand, pines instead of palms, and boots instead of sandals. The beauty of the glittering snow was breathtaking, sunlight bouncing in every direction, making way for our souls to draw in, and exhale out.

About 1 mile in, we stopped to catch our breath, and readjust our boots. The trail had been packed down by hikers who had gone before us, and the snowshoes were not necessary. We laughed out loud, poking fun about the half hour we had spent waiting at the ski shop for the shoes we were now carrying instead of wearing. Just like most everything in 2020, our best-laid plans had changed direction right in front of us, and the best option, the only option, was to keep pressing forward. Not five minutes had passed, and again, we stopped, searching the pack we’d carried in for a bandaid or gauze. The boots that hadn’t been worn in months were now rubbing their way through my sister’s heels, making each step tender and raw.

I looked forward, and then back down the trail, scanning for a marker to let us know how far we’d come, or even how far we still had to go, as Kirsten continued rummaging through the pack, looking for anything that would ease the pain. Nothing. Chapstick, granola bars, and bottles of water littered the ground, along with an extra pair of gloves, and two pairs of snow pants that we hadn’t needed either. We had thought of almost everything before we left, and the months we had just lived seemed to be playing out right in front of us yet again — prepared for so much, but not really prepared at all.

“Should we switch boots?” I quietly asked, hoping for a way to continue to the falls that we had every good intention of reaching.

“It’s worth a try,” she replied, as I reached down to untie the laces.

Instant relief spread across her face as she slipped on the boots that had carried me all afternoon. With our snowshoes in hand and new boots on our feet, we continued on, talking about the things we had experienced over the past several months. The top five things we’d read, listened to, watched, and made provoked reflection more so than goals as we talked about our hopes and dreams for the year to come. There’d been games we’d played, food we’d cooked, projects we’d tackled, and shows we’d watched with our families that had allowed us to connect in ways we didn’t know were even possible, and the intentionality of slowing down, rather than speeding up had allowed both of us to experience the solace we knew we needed all along.

Had it been detrimental to find new ways to live? No.

Was it painful to continue pressing on when it might have been easier to quit? Absolutely.

Had we been on both the giving and receiving end of solace in the form of cheer, comfort, and even peace? Certainly.

In the end, did the good outweigh the bad? Without a doubt.

Pressing toward the gentle roar of the cascading water, our feet continued to carry us as we shared the highs and lows of our days. Single steps moving in a forward direction was all 2020 had asked of us, and now, at the top of the falls, we stood in awe of one of the most glorious sights on that beautiful December day, high above everything that seemed to matter.

A new year is here, and with that, opportunities to take the next right steps — wherever and whatever they may look like — knowing that the future always comes. It may not look like the future we were expecting, but I believe that if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that one step at a time is all we have to take.

I also know that when given the opportunity to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, one should take it. It may just save both of you.

———

Lindsay Murdock lives and teaches in Echo.

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