Having settled down for the time being, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it was exactly that made the walking year so magical. I figure if I can put my finger on the keystone ingredient, if I can name it in a word, then it should be a simple task to find this magic today, and every day, no matter the circumstance. I think I’ve done it, and it won’t be a surprise to those of you who read along throughout the year. The word?
There’s this term called “trail magic” I’ve heard long distance trail hikers use in reference to those little serendipitous miracles that save you from suffering in one way or another. It’s a feast for dinner when you thought you’d be dining on granola bars, it’s a shower when you were filthy, it’s a cold drink when you were thirsty, a friend when you were lonely. But is trail magic really these things – the friend, the drink, the shower, the feast – or is it simply a revitalized appreciation for these things? By most standards, the tangible stuff of trail magic isn’t rare or precious. For example: America is surging with rivers of sweet tea. It’s a ubiquitous, cheap commodity (especially if you’re in the Deep South, what up Deep South!). But as I was slowly trudging across the country and someone would pull over on the side of the highway, get out of their car, and walk over to me holding a bottle of the cold nectar triumphantly aloft, you couldn’t have traded me a Santa Claus sack full of diamonds for the stuff. Yes, the trail magic was the drink. Yes, the trail magic was the person who brought the drink. But perhaps more than both of these things (maybe not more than the latter, but definitely more than the former), the trail magic was my hyperappreciation. Thank you Mr. Generous and Mrs. Compassionate for doing this. Thank you sweet tea, for being so damn delicious. Thank you mysterious world for making this happen. A million thank yous again and again.
Gratitude. Intense gratitude. I think that’s really what trail magic is. And if that’s the case, then it’s all around us, just waiting to be realized. Tonight, some friends invited me over for dinner. We’ll enjoy food and company together for awhile and then I’ll head back home and take a shower. Then I’ll go to bed, in a bed. If I were on the road, this sequence of events would be a miracle, an astonishing, against-all-the-odds genuine miracle. And isn’t it? How precious, the presence of friends. How luxurious, a warm bed. How awesome, how truly awesome, water and food.
Deprivation – or even the threat of it – is a powerful revealer of truth. You’re thirsty and you have nothing but stale water boiled hot from the Nevada sun and you realize the depths of sweet tea’s delicious truth. But it shouldn’t take deprivation to find this appreciation. It shouldn’t take a year of walking across America. And it doesn’t. It’s right here right now.
In the spirit of gratitude, I thought I’d share the touching story of Dalton Dingus (what a great name). He’s a nine year-old boy from Kentucky terminally ill with cystic fibrosis. In the remaining days of his life, he’s hoping to break the world record for most Christmas cards ever received. And he’s doing it. The cards have been streaming in, tens of thousands of them, so many that his house is heaping with piles of cards, every one of them an expression of love and gratitude for the dying boy from perfect strangers. Read more on his story here.
I love these beautifully redeeming moments, stories of strangers helping and loving each other. I think it’s especially important to remember these stories and to create them especially when we suffer a devastating tragedy of the likes Newtown, Connecticut has seen. What to do in response to abhorrent and senseless violence? How do we react to mind-boggling hatred and heartbreaking loss? We grieve it, we grieve it good and long and real, and then I think we love harder than ever before. We write Dalton a Christmas card, and not just for Dalton but for Newtown, for all of us, for everything that ties us together. We smile a bit bigger and hug a bit longer, appreciating each other and marveling at the trail magic that surrounds us.