The two women walking in front of me on the lake trail caught my attention. It was extremely warm for late December in Middle Tennessee, and this easy, flat path was crowded on the day after Christmas. These two, though, stood out as they walked slowly 50 yards in front of me.
The older woman, probably late 70s, had striking white hair styled fashionably around her shoulders. Despite the warm air, she was bundled up with a scarf and a long puffy coat, in the way the elderly or infirm or frail are apt to do. Her back was straight, though, and she plodded forward deliberately.
She leaned heavily on a cane and seemed equally dependent on the arm of a younger woman who was taking short, choppy steps to match the older woman’s pace. I slowed and walked behind them for a hundred yards or so.
Eventually I stopped to take in the stunning view of the lake revealed by the bare winter woods. When I resumed walking several minutes later, it didn’t take long to catch up to the pair of women. I called out that I was passing on their left, since they were in the center of the trail on a narrow stretch, and the older woman turned and said, “Oh thank you, dear. I know we’re holding everyone up.” Her eyes and smile were bright, and her face was peaceful.
I answered, “Good for you for being out here! It’s a beautiful day.” On a whim, I added what I had been observing and thinking. “I’ve walked behind you for a while, and I’m touched by the sweet image of you two.” I looked into the eyes of the older walker and said, “You’re extending yourself to be enjoying this beautiful place, and you have steady and nurturing support that helps you do it. How wonderful! I’ll take this mental picture with me all day.”
Both women beamed and the older said, “Yes, it is wonderful to have such support. I couldn’t do this or many things without it.” Then she paused and added, “You look so strong, you might not understand this, but all of us need help sometimes, and not just when you’ve lived a long time like I have. I’m lucky to have the support I do.” And she leaned her head tenderly on the shoulder of her companion.
My eyes brimmed with tears and I answered, “Oh, I understand it for sure. I’ve needed a lot of support this year—emotionally more than physically—and I know the difference it makes to have a steady arm.” I added, “I’m also supporting a loved one in what will be a long process, and that’s a gift, too.” The younger woman smiled and agreed, “Yes, yes it is.” The older woman said, “Oh, well good for you, too, then. Be sure you get the support you need when you’re caregiving for someone else. I guess that’s one reason you’re out here, right? This is a good place to recharge.” Impulsively, I moved to hug her, and she pulled her arm from the bent elbow of her supporter and hugged me back with a surprising strength.
I was warmed by the exchange and it lingered in the back of my mind, until it flooded to the forefront the next day from a sight involving the other end of the age spectrum. I was walking in the small park near my house, and three little girls were playing there. The youngest was tiny, barely two years old I learned from her mom, and she was struggling to ride a small tricycle up a slight incline. Her oldest sister swooped behind her on a hoverboard, bent to put her hands on the toddler’s back, and pushed her up the hill. (That eight-year-old had skills!) Both girls whooped with delight, and the rest of the time I was in the park, they circled and circled the sidewalk loop, one with her little feet lifted off the whirling peddles and the other propelling her like a human barge. The middle sister chased them and cheered them on. What fun!
It occurred to me that we need helping, supportive hands across the lifespan, which is a core principle of recovery—of healthy living, actually. No one can do life alone. God made us for relationship, and positive human connection is the most precious and valuable thing on earth.
Today I’m immensely grateful for all the support that showers me, and when I have eyes to see it, always has. Some support is tender and emotional that soothes and strengthens my spirit. Other support offers pure fun, and I’m finding how much I need and love that kind. In the presence of the enormous pain that brings people to Bethesda Workshops, the cutting experiences of loss, and the persistent ache that idles within, laughter and play are wonderful elixirs—the champagne of life!
As a new year and decade dawns, I invite you to join me in noticing the ways you receive loving life support and watching for chances to offer it to others. Whether in the form of simple fun or the depths of emotional/physical/spiritual presence, such provision is priceless. You aren’t walking alone, and you can make sure that someone else isn’t either.
Let’s raise a toast to life support! Happy new year to all!
Marnie C. Ferree