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Tree of Life

My parents live on a beautiful private street. It’s a circle actually. Twelve homes, some hugging the edge of a pond, all vary in style – cottages, colonials and a couple of ranches – each with towering trees filled with songbirds. It’s a great street to walk around. And around.

Once around is a quarter mile. It’s not as exciting a walk as, say, the streets of Manhattan or along the beach, but it’s a different kind of walk. Whether at first light as the day awakens or after dinner, when the dishes are done and the day is settling into night, this reflective stroll lets one contemplate anything or nothing.

Last December, after both my grandfather and uncle passed away, I came home for a visit. It was cold, but I knew my mother needed to get fresh air. I suggested we walk the circle, saying the cool air would do her good. So we bundled up, unrecognizable in layers, and walk we did, over and over, round and round.

I knew, however, after I returned to the city, my mother would need some incentive to continue the walks without me there to push her, so I came up with an idea.

“Okay,” I said, picking up four broken branches from the front lawn. “Every time we complete a lap, we toss a twig into the woods. This way we don’t have to count, just walk. Plus,” and I knew she’d like this part, “we’re cleaning the yard at the same time!”

In the weeks and months after I left, my mom would tell me over the phone, “Dad and I walked eight times around the circle.” Some days it was twelve. Some sixteen. Some days she walked alone, the twigs her veiled incentive. As winter turned to spring, and spring to summer, those twigs allowed my mom to walk without counting, focusing her attention instead on the memories of her father and brother, while at the same time giving her a goal and bringing her back to herself.

Every goal or journey begins with a first step, but it’s that first step that is the hardest. It’s easier to sit still, grasping on to despair or anger or whatever may be holding you back. But here’s the beauty of that first step, once you’ve taken it, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.

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