Death and Criss-Crossed Paths 

I’ve been struggling lately with activity. I’m still working third shift, but I’m going on three months on this schedule now, but my body still doesn’t want to adjust to a proper sleep schedule. I toss and turn almost all day, and when I finally fall asleep it’s just about time to go to work where I feel groggy and tired all shift. I get off work in the morning too exhausted to feel like doing anything, so I go straight home where I toss and turn and the cycle continues. I get an average of three to five hours of sleep a day, then sleep through most of my days off when my body decides to catch up. Consequently, my exercise routine has been paltry at best, and with most parks closed during my peak activity hours of the middle of the night, I get almost no real hiking in. 

I have recently though started forcing myself to at least go for a walk for an hour or so each morning right after I get off work. I haven’t been doing great, but I manage to hit three or four days a week, which is a decent start I think. Usually I go to the Arboretum close to where I’m staying for the winter, and if the weather isn’t great I’ll go to the mall, which opens early specifically for walkers, and each lap gets me a half mile. 

This past Sunday though I went to a cemetery close to where I work. It was a chilly morning, at least in comparison to the overall oddly warm February we’ve had here in Kentucky, but it was bright and sunny, so I enjoyed some pleasant views. I really enjoy cemeteries as a place to walk. They’re obviously quiet, they  have well maintained walking paths, there’s usually good views, and there’s enough variety of sloping turns to make it a decent workout you can vary each time you visit. 

You have to admit, it is restful 

Growing up, my dad took us walking in cemeteries pretty often. Usually we’d go somewhere a family member was buried so we could check on the gravesite and plant some flowers. (there’s a memorable occasion when he mixed up some of his starters and accidentally planted tomatoes at my great-grandmother’s grave. Despite the idea being creepy to others, he still ate the produced tomatoes because why let them go to waste?) We often lived in neighborhoods that didn’t allow for much walking around, with roads that had no sidewalks and drivers that paid little attention to their speed or tendency to stay in the lines, and there were few if any local parks, none of which were large enough to have good walking paths. So cemeteries were a good place to take my sister and I to walk off our energy and get some decent outdoors time. 

Plus the mausoleums make great jungle gyms

So I feel oddly comfortable with walking through this cemetery early on a Sunday morning. I pass one or two other people who are there visiting loved ones and do my best to let them pass their time in peace. There are a few buildings on the grounds that I’ll stop to admire. A chapel and a small house that I’m guessing was originally for the grounds keeper but now looks like it’s set aside for gatherings. It’s still too early in the year for much blooming, but there are some recently cut flowers out, and some rather high quality fabric ones that add to a serene sense of rest to the place. It’s set up on a hill that overlooks several valley areas leading down to the Ohio River, so I can see for miles from some spots. With the sun just past its morning rise, there’s a fresh feeling to the day. 

Cemeteries tend to be designed with a variety of criss-crossed pathways separating the various lots, and I take several different turns to stretch out my distance, with occasional references to my phone to figure out exactly where I am in relation to my car parked off to the side close to the entrance. There’s no determined route that I’m taking and each turn is pretty much at random. 

Left at the Smith family plot, right at the Dunnes

This fits my mood pretty well for the morning. For a while now I’ve been racking my brain trying to make some decisions regarding my long term plans. Part of me still wants to return to the Trail in the summer, probably around early June. I’d be heading straight to Katahdin, where I’ll then hike south to complete my journey where I last left off in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I’m thinking 4 months would be sufficient to finish the roughly thousand miles I have left. It’s a welcome opportunity to get back to a basic set of life that I’ve found myself missing ever since I came home. And a clear cut sense of direction that’s difficult to find in any other way. Rarely in life do you get such a straightforward sense of your day as “wake up, eat, walk forward till you’re too tired. Camp for bed.” 

Occasionally a tree falls across a path, and that’s always an exciting change for the day

But at the same time, I continue to have a nagging sense that maybe the more responsible choice is to stay. Put down roots and move forward with life. I’ve got decent job, if low paying, that carries good benefits and some sense of purpose and good will. I’m still very much living in temporary conditions though since I came home with plans for leaving again soon. I could instead be signing a lease for an apartment, or saving up to buy some foreclosed home in a developing part of town. I could be paying off my ever present student loans and building a better personal financial future. I could go back to school and find something other than my years of Bible school and ministry training to put down on job applications, since those haven’t exactly opened a variety of doors for me yet. 

Something something, door pun

I struggle, I think, because when I last left for the Trail, I was given very clear direction. I’ve said before that I’ve never felt so clearly that God was telling me to do something. It was a dream that had been on my heart for years before that, but in the immediate time leading up to my departure I had a number of signals that it was time. Unprovoked conversations with friends that reaffirmed it, repeatedly coming across articles and advice when I least expected to. Several bits of “wool being left out.”(see the story of Gideon in the biblical book of Judges for context on that) Not to mention the way my gear came together, almost at the last minute and seemingly with easy speed and chance deals through a variety of online vendors and even donations. 

This time though, I don’t feel like I’ve got such a clear direction. Some days I wake up and my heart feels so firmly fixed on leaving, but other times I’ll get a sense of conviction that my time for running away to professionally play outside is done and I need to get back to work on being an adult. 

Though it’s worth remembering that I’ll get the same ultimate result either way

But how often in life does one find themselves with an opportunity like this? I’m not tied down with a lease. There’s no commitment to romantic relationship or a family. While I enjoy my job (some days) I also know that I won’t particularly miss it when I’m gone, and the turnover rate is so high I can pretty much guarantee an opening when I come back so long as I don’t burn my bridges on the way out. Why not enjoy this chance to travel the rest of the way, and avoid having this incomplete task hanging over my head for the rest of my days? 

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the idea that there is no “wrong choice” in this case. While there are certainly times in life where you might be given a clear direction as I was last summer, at most other points I think God treats our lives like the way I treat this walk through the cemetery. Take the whole thing as your boundaries, but you can choose whatever path you like. Just have the decency to not go stepping on anyone along way. 

And again, no matter what you do, you’re still gonna get the same ultimate ending

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