Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Trail, Always

Beauty is not always, or often, physical. Beauty can also be in an action or effort, as I witnessed out on the trail today.

I hike a few miles several times a week, up and around the Santa Monica Mountains. Today's hike began with my fellow hiker in tears over the impending death of a friend succumbing to ovarian cancer, a woman who had finally just left her overbearing husband of 25 years. It's the kind of story that just makes you want to say "not fair" as if fairness has anything to do with cancer.

We climbed in silence, my friend listening to soothing music, me trying to think of comforting words when there really are none. As we continued up a slight incline, I noticed an elderly woman gingerly picking her way down the trail toward us, aided by a walking stick in each hand. I watched her careful but quick steps, landing beside the sticks she carried. She was slightly plump, covered head to toe, her face protected from the sun by a large-brimmed hat and her hands covered in biking gloves. In such garb, I would have been swooning, but she stayed her course, cool and deliberate in her movements. Moving closer, I could see her face beneath the hat. She looked like the type of woman who has hiked everyday of her life, serence and at peace in nature. A quick smile and she was past us, picking her way down the last half mile decline. I guessed her age at about 72.

My friend lets out a sad sigh, and I'm reminded of her friend's illness, at just 51 years old. It makes me think of that saying, "Grow old gracefully, for what is the alternative?" My thoughts return to the elderly hiker and I realize I'd been given a gift this morning. A truly beautiful vision of a woman aging gracefully, using whatever tools and tricks it takes to stick to her path...and still finding the strength for a smile. I hope that's me someday.

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