Have you seen the new show Touch, with Keifer Sutherland? It’s about him and his son, this boy who doesn’t talk, but sees life in mathematical equations and figures out who needs to meet who and how relationships and situations need to work together. His dad is as needy and stressed out as anyone else in this world, but suddenly finds that his son is trying to communicate with him, and together they have a mission. I was thinking on my walk this morning about how screwed up we all are. And I know what you are all thinking, but it’s not just me. It’s easy to look from the outside and think that a person who has all the “stuff” of a good life is happy and has it all figured out. If a person isn’t obviously starving or homeless or strung out on drugs, they can give the impression of having it all together. Then you get to know people, and realize that truly, everyone is broken. As I look around at people I love, we are all falling apart. The family you thought was perfect suddenly explodes and you realize that it never really was perfect. Another family cannot cope with the stress of exceptionally needy children and meds are not always enough to alleviate the anxiety. Another has no family and feels so alone. It seems that things didn’t work out the way anyone had hoped. Now the in-laws are moving in because they can’t take care of themselves and the house could be foreclosed at any moment and mom and dad live in separate houses and never talk. You too know that if people look close enough, they will begin to see the cracks in your own life. These were my musings as I walked the trail today.

The downside of living where I do is the painfully long drive to get anywhere. The upside is that the Appalachian Trail practically crosses through my backyard and I get to live closer to nature than a National Geographic special. My section of the trail is rocky, wooded, and hilly. This morning my two schnauzers and I went to explore a new section of the trail, me lumbering along at human-walker pace, them darting ahead and then back to me over and over at manic-little-dog pace. For the most part they stayed on the trail, but also dashed easily into the woods in hot pursuit of a rabbit or a squirrel or rock that looked a lot like a squirrel. With a good deal more trouble than them, I could have followed them into the woods, fighting through thorny brambles and branches and stumbling over rocks. It’s spring, which means the bare brown landscape has given way to splashes of green with buds on the trees, weeds and wildflowers popping up from the ground, and some thorny branch or another reaching out to grab you at every turn. A month ago I had easily walked through the woods without a path, and even gotten lost for an hour or so and wondered if the rumored mountain lion would find me before I made my way out. But with spring comes an increasingly dense thicket of brush that by midsummer is an impenetrable wall through which only the bravest of woodsmen armed with hatchet and tic repellant would dare to tread.

I marveled at my dogs’ ability to find the perfect openings to dash into the woods, never tripping on a vine or getting caught by thorny wild blackberry branches. Thinking of this, I stopped and bent my head down to their eye level, trying to see what the world looked like from their 18-inch high perspective. From where I had stood, much of the brush was about chest-level and impeded my free access to the woods. I could see over the brush to what lay down the path, and at my eye level stood the trunks of trees. Down where the dogs ran, the picture was different. It was much more green and lush, the newly sprung weeds and growth having grown above their own heads. It was exciting down here, with undiscovered paths and an unending kaleidoscope of green, brown, and grey. The world had become more wild. Small stones became boulders to charge over. You could stare into the eyes of a beetle and trace each petal of a tiny blue flower. From down here, I could see how it would be easy to become distracted by each movement in the woods, any hint of life out there. If I were small and quick, I too could have darted out after the tail of the little brown rabbit that crossed our path. Down here, life the woods was personal. I was not just walking through it, I was in it. I could see and smell more of the woods, but I could not see far beyond my nose. Standing back up (luckily there were no hikers out to see me writhing around on the ground talking to the flowers), I was able again orient myself and see ahead on the path that would lead me back home. Weeds and fallen trees receded into the background and were no longer obstacles to me. From up where I stood, I could grasp a bigger picture of the forest than when I lay on the ground. I looked up to see two huge birds with wings outstretched gracefully soaring above me, circling closer. I like to think they were hawks, but more likely they were vultures. What must their perspective be, I wondered? They could see all the intersecting paths in the woods and roads and people and animals around. They would not have gotten lost in the woods and wondered if they would ever find their way home again. They had a big picture perspective greater than mine or my schnauzers’. From up there, where you can’t see the details, things must look so simple. Peaceful. Like Bette Middler sings, “From a distance there is harmony.”

How little some of our petty problems would look from the perspective of the vulture (you can see now how it would be better here for me to plug in eagle or hawk?). How insignificant they must be from an eternal perspective. What do our little lives look like down here to God? Can he see all these connections like the patchwork birds-eye map of paths and roads and neighborhoods around me? Not the Bette Middler “God is watching us from a distant land” sort of objectivity; that’s too impersonal. I don’t think God dismisses our pain. But maybe the interconnectedness and personal-ness that the boy sees in Touch. I would like to have that sort of perspective. It’s comforting to know that there is someone bigger than me who can not only see all our messes, but see how our messes fit together, and maybe lead us to people who can help each other sort the messes out. Seems that for some reason God lets us screwed up people show other screwed up people how to get out of the holes we have dug. If we are honest, we will admit that we are all broken, and maybe that brokenness can help someone else deal with theirs. Maybe we are all meant to Touch.

Posted 9th April on my old site; I moved it over to my new blog 🙂