By: D.A. Henneman
At first, there is an absence of light that covers her like a blanket. Breathing in contentment, she listens to the soft chirps and whistles of creatures that herald the morning and the gentle lull of waves as they caress the shore. She is tempted to lie quietly and exist with these sounds, to slowly fill her lungs with salty air and become one with the moment. But life has different plans for her and her curious nature wins out. She opens her eyes to the inspiration around her, and welcomes the beginning of her life.
Slowly lifting her head, she absorbs the beauty that surrounds her. Crystalline waters extend endlessly before her. Just above the horizon the sun is edging up to begin its gliding climb towards the heavens. This sun is the center of her world, and the colors that radiate from it are rich hues of burnt orange and candy apple red, colors that are at home on a painter’s canvas and most vivid in an old man’s memory. As small rounded waves lick the shore, they leave behind a glistening trail of shells like tiny treasures on the sand. The shells are small, almost as insignificant as the grains of sand beneath her feat. Like everything around her, she is aware of their presence, but doesn’t know what they represent. What they will mean to her.
Mesmerized by the sights and sound around her, she has trouble taking them all in at once. She is anxious to be part of the beauty around her, but curious what other experiences she’d discover if she were to venture from this place. While limitless in its potential, she doesn’t appreciate that this is a place she will long to see again, but will only be able to return to in her mind’s eye. She is excited to start her journey, to paint the blank canvas of her life with the vivid colors of her anticipated experiences. There are no worries that furrow her brow, nor responsibilities and demands on her time. Only patience, warmth and the freedom to run, dance or sing should she choose. Standing slowly and burying her feet in the white endless sand, she chooses to walk. With a deep breath and a gentle breeze lightly lifting the hair from her face, she starts her journey.
The first steps are easy for her; it is almost as though she is guided by an invisible force. She walks her path alone but is joined in spirit by others, as represented by the footsteps in the sand that extend before her. It is a comfort to her to know they are there. She is a fledgling and spreads her wings beneath the safety of this force, encouraged to fly, yet at the same time warned to keep her feet on the ground.
Continuing her journey on foot along the water’s edge, she notices debris on the shore. These items, some of them large, some small, intimidate her, but she is young and impulsive and is soon running and hurtling the obstacles. Realizing that these challenges were easy to overcome, she smiles at her success. As the sun rises in the sky she approaches a fork that offers endless possibilities in each direction. She looks to the forces that surround her for answers, but they are mute. She realizes they have fulfilled their obligations to her and now she must continue the journey on her own. She fears making the wrong choice, not sure which path to take as they both seem to have good and bad qualities, and as the sun rises in the sky, she makes her decision…to follow the path less traveled.
The journey is now more difficult and she finds the path thick with dried weeds and stones that cause her to walk around or jump over. While she is lacking the invisible support that she had come to rely on, making her journey harder, she finds more fulfillment when the choices are hers. As she travels through minor challenges, she finds that the air is sweeter, the beach is more stunning and most important, that she is happy.
Further up, the path takes a bend; clouds threaten to hide the sun’s rays and the waters seem more restless. In the distance she sees darkness moving towards her, thick with despair and anger and it overwhelms her. She seeks shelter as the storm moves closer to her and she attempts as best she can to squelch the fear that threatens to choke her soul. Terrified, she runs up the path to a large boulder, knowing instinctively that she must stop her journey and wait out the storm. At the base of the rock there is a crevice high enough for her to squeeze into, and trembling from the cold, she takes refuge in this place. The inky darkness surrounds her and she closes her eyes, shuttering each time the wind howls and the angry waves crash. The ocean churns up the very bottom of its depths and tosses the contents upon the shore. She is threatened with debris as it is thrown near her but realizes quickly even though she is afraid, she is not being harmed.
The ocean screams in a rage, lightening rips across the blackened sky, and she is filled with anger. She is angry that she allowed the ocean to control her with fear and livid that she isn’t in control of her life. At that moment she realizes, in order to continue on her journey, she must control the storm. She pulls herself from her hiding space and faces the dark churning waters of the ocean. As the rains pelt her and waves tug at her ankles, she raises her hands to the sky and screams that she is not afraid, that she will not be controlled by her fear. Her rage warms her and in response to her threats the winds die down, the rains dry up and the clouds disappear. As the waves slow down to a gentle roll, she knows she has weathered the storm and reined in her fears like a bridled stallion. This is the middle of her life and she is empowered. She begins her journey anew.
The beach is littered with debris from the storm, some objects are small enough to jump over and some are so large that they force her to go around. But she stays on course, knowing now she is capable of handling anything. The debris she finds in her path represents the challenges of her life, most of which are behind her as she continues her walk. Her steps are light with the knowledge that even if challenges are put before her, she has the strength to overcome them.
The sun is lower on the horizon, and the colors of her memory are welcomed back to make their grand display. She remembers the ease and beauty of past days and wishes to know them again. She considers for just a moment walking back the way she came to grasp those realities, to go back to an easier time, but knows it’s impossible to walk a path more than once. Besides, her journey would be cheapened. She is the sum of her experiences and wouldn’t be the person she’s become had she walked a different path, or made other choices. This doesn’t stop her from feeling a sense of regret that she didn’t have the wisdom sooner to truly appreciate her youth, but she doesn’t wallow in it, she accepts it. It is as much a part of her as the thoughts in her head or the breath in her lungs.
She tires easily now and her steps slow on the path. Resting on a massive log that has washed up from her storm, she looks to the horizon and the sun is the center of her world. The colors that radiate from its core are rich hues of burnt orange and candy apple red once more. Instead of being at the beginning of her journey, she is in the sunset of her life. Content to know that she faced her worst fears and overcome every obstacle that life put in her path, she has embraced her journey and everything it represents, good and bad, inspiring and terrifying. In the end her path wound through a completely fulfilled and glorious life.
As she watches the sun fade into the horizon and hears the soft chirps and whistles of the creatures that herald the night, she is at peace and smiles. She knows the sun will come again, and although it will not warm her face, she will be there to walk quietly beside the next traveler who will only know her presence by the footprint she leaves alongside them. She will be the force that guides time on their journey, and for her, that is the best way to end hers.
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