Walking and Rocks and Jonah

Walking and Carrying One Another's Burdens and Running Away

Dear Readers,

Heidi kicked off Holy Solitude this week by writing about walking: “Sometimes, on stressful days in my work as a parish priest, I would walk in circles around my church sanctuary, talking to God and letting the movement of my body calm me down.” Made me think of my daily prayerful walks on St. David’s labyrinth, which was completed three years ago.

I also walk in my neighborhood every morning. I started walking our dog every morning when we moved from a house into an apartment when I attended seminary.  I walked her every morning when I lived in Virginia Beach for my first clergy call (again, no yard), but since Gary was headquartered in DC, my walks were usually solitary—well, with Ginger. When Gary and I both moved here to Richmond, to a house with a beautiful view instead of a fenced backyard, walks became an essential part of our day together. At a retreat in 2014, the Rule of Life I created included daily walks with Gary.

But after my lung surgery last April, walking changed for me. Days after my last radiation treatment for breast cancer, I had surgery some call a thoracotomy and others a lobectomy. If gory details gross you out, please skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, here’s what happened: the surgeon cut open my back (I have a cool seven-inch scar), separated my ribs (two broke, which is normal), and removed the top half (“lobe”) of my left lung because there was a cancerous tumor on it, and then stapled the remaining lung back together. He didn’t realize until he got in there that the tumor was also on my pulmonary artery; disengaging was tricky. I’ve been told that lungs don’t have nerve cells so can’t cause pain, but I could feel the chest tube that they left where the lobe used to be to help stuff drain out. I nicknamed that tube “the Spear,” because that’s what it felt like wedged in my chest. A couple of hours after that surgery, too much stuff was draining out of the chest tube, leading to emergency surgery. That second surgery in one day was the fourth time in two months that I had been under general anesthesia, the other two being breast cancer surgery and the lung biopsy. (The breast cancer biopsy I wrote about in this essay did not require general anesthesia, but it hurt.)

So after all that, walking is harder for me. When I first got home after thoracic surgery, I could barely walk to the mailbox. Last summer, while undergoing chemo, some days I only made it around the block. Today I still struggle with the hills and walks are less pleasant than they used to be, but I value my time with Gary and our walks are one of the most important things I do for myself. My oncologist does not want me to return to the gym until we’ve reached herd immunity, so walks are my only form of exercise. Obviously, I now walk slower than I used to.

Gary recently started sporting an old backpack filled with rocks on our walks to slow him down so that he’s closer to my pace. Since he has started doing this, walks have become more enjoyable for me (I call them “rock walks”) because I can keep up. All that extra weight means less fun for him, but a better workout.

Those rocks Gary wears on our morning walks make me think of Christians willingly taking on burdens to ease the burden of someone else. When people direct me to find blessings in the burdens of two cancers during a pandemic, I do not react well. Please never ever do this to someone with cancer. But, when someone else is not trying to burden me with their toxic positivity, I am able to see that the biggest blessing of this horrible past year has been seeing what a fine human my husband is. I can’t express how it feels to walk next to him while he carries a bag of rocks on his back.

My other favorite selection from Holy Solitude this week was about Jonah. I mentioned in my newsletter last week that Gary calls me “Dr. No” because my initial reaction to almost anything is “No.” Jonah is an unparalleled naysayer, literally fleeing in the opposite direction when God directs him to Nineveh. (Gary compared me to Jonah in this essay I started a couple of years ago about not becoming a bishop.) A storm overtakes the boat Jonah hopped to Tarshish, and when he’s tossed overboard, he’s swallowed by a fish and lingers in its belly for three days. Finally, at that point, Jonah talks to God.

This Lent, I hope we can all talk to God without undergoing something quite so drastic. If you are reading this book along with me, what parts struck you most this week, and why?



What I’m Writing:

Third Sunday in Lent sermon. Out of Mark and into John, ugh; but Jesus knocking stuff over is always fun.

What I’m Reading:

Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets and Rebels by Heidi Haverkamp. My focus for this Lenten newsletter series.

Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice by Ellen McGarrahan. Started this last week but neglected to include the link. Memoir/true crime. A reporter witnesses an execution and twenty-five years later sets out to determine whether or not the man who was executed was innocent.

The Committed by Viet Thahn Nguyen. Novel. Sequel to The Sympathizer. I was first in line for this from the library so am relishing the shiny new copy. Most of me loves library books, but the part that used to be an antiquarian bookseller is dismayed by the ink stamps and book jacket protectors that cause the edges of the jacket to curl.

What I Own and Want to Be Reading so I Moved Closer to My Chair:

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. One of my beloved MFA mentors, Dianne Aprile, recommended this book to me four years ago due to my love of walking and while I bought it right away, I still have not read it, so I moved it from a shelf to the TBR pile next to my heron chair. As the T-shirt says, “So many books, so little time.”