Following Life's Arrows to a Wedding
Submitted by Nancy
Mountain: North Moat Mountain (3,196)
Date: August 7, 2010
Time: 9 hours
Weather: Warm, sun and clouds, very light breeze
Trails: Red Ridge Trail to Moat Mountain Trail
"They said change your clothes
She said no I won't
They said comb your hair
She said some kids don't
And her parents dreams went up in smoke
They said you can't leave
She said yes I will
They said don't see him
She said his name is Bill
She's on a roll and it's all uphill
She's a wild one
With an angel's face
She's a woman-child
In a state of grace
When she was 3 years old on her daddy's knee
He said you can be anything you want to be
She's a wild one
~Faith Hill, Wild One
This hike has a pleasant surprise - arrows. Yup, arrows pointing us in the right direction. I love that. Sometimes I doubt my choices and wonder if I have veered off the path. An arrow is so reassuring. I wish life had arrows pointing us in the right direction. That would take care of a lot of the guesswork, doubt and angst that goes along with making life decisions.
The other pleasant surprise about this hike is that it is a gorgeous trail with lots of views almost all along the way. We are not in the woods long before we break out on a ridge with a view and then, on a pretty regular basis, we find ourselves on open ridges with the horizon defined by mountains and beyond them, more mountains. The incredible views are also signs we are on the right track, as is the eroded path that winds its way up the mountain, and the very time-worn blazes on the open ledges every once in a while. But, the ultimate reassurance is the handmade arrow signs - what a gift!
As I walk along the ridge, immersed in the rich colors of summer, from the intense blues and greens just over the cliffs below my feet to the wide expanse of fading blues and greens as the colors eventually merge with the sky, I find myself thinking about the arrow signs and wondering why I love them so much. I know why right away. I am at a crossroads in life, rethinking work, adventures, and even where I want to live for the second half of my life. I am in a place of not-knowing, and that makes me think of Jess, my youngest daughter, who is getting married next Saturday. She is in a place of knowing. It seems she has always been.
From the very beginning, Jess had a mind of her own and exercised it every time we asked her to do anything. Her temper and her stamina for pushing back until she got her way combined for a merciless wallop that left Don and I wondering if we were meant to be parents. She was always testing us. Sometimes it felt like she was squeezing the last drop of parental control out of us. She would push and test and argue for hours until we finally gave up, exhausted. I remember one day Jess was having a temper tantrum, slamming her door over and over again and Don went calmly up to her bedroom with a screwdriver, methodically took the door off its hinges and walked away with it saying, "When you are calm enough to use this properly, you can have it back." Another time she and I had a huge fight. I sent her to her bedroom and I sat on my bed in tears. Rajah, our golden retriever came into my bedroom. She had a note attached to her collar. It said, "I am sorry, but you should be sorrier. Jess"
I was wrong most of the time when it came to Jess. I thought I knew which direction the arrows were pointing in her life and did my damndest to point her in that direction. But in reality only Jess knew which way to turn. She was a wild child, full of herself. She always knew what she wanted and most often it was the opposite of what I felt was right for her.
Jess met Sean when they worked at the Colony Mill, a local marketplace, and they started dating when they were in high school. They had a pretty tumultuous relationship and I would hear her crying in her room at night. I'd check on her and she would tell me they had a fight. It broke my heart to see her so upset and I would try to console her, while suggesting that perhaps Sean was not the right guy. But I was wrong. And she knew it.
They'd break up, then get back together, and we would go through the cycle again. I was sure the relationship would not survive. I was wrong again. It more than survived. Sean joined the Army and matured into a strong, handsome, responsible young man. He served our country for 2 years in Iraq, while Jess worked and waited. He came home from Iraq on leave and asked Don and I if he could marry Jess. "I love Jess and I want to spend my life with her," he said. It was then, looking into his eyes as he told us how much he loved our daughter, that I realized what Jess knew all along. Sean loves Jess with all his being.
Pat and I stop on the ridge and check our watches to see if they agree with our stomachs that are calling for sustenance. We decide to find a nook out of the wind, with a view and have some lunch. I am thinking we are on the top of the mountain.
As Pat and I eat lunch, gazing out at the view that seems to go on and on, I am deep in thought. I realize that we can only live our own lives and only know our own way. Each person has their own arrows to follow and it is up to them to follow their path. I can't know Jess' path. Only she knows. Maybe as parents we think we know the right path for our kids, and we guide them as best we can, until the moment comes when they take over and our jobs are essentially done, often way before we are ready.
After lunch, I have some fun taking pictures of Dejah with the backdrop of the beautiful New Hampshire mountains. I love this dog. And if Jess had followed my advice, I would never have had the joy of Dejah.
When Jess was in college she decided to get a dog and I urged her not to, saying dogs take a lot of time and work and money; that it was the wrong time in her life for a dog. She didn't listen. She never did. She bought a yellow lab, named her Dejah and proceeded to bring her everywhere she went, introducing her to the world of a college student. As a result, Dejah is an easy-going, sweet, well-behaved, intelligent dog and a beloved member of the family.
During her sophomore year at Keene State, Jess was offered the Finance and Insurance Manager position at Nissan of Keene, where she had worked since high school. The first time they offered her the job, she chose to stay in college. The second time they offered her the position she took it. I thought staying in college might be the better choice, but Jess clearly was following her own life arrows that I could not see. She took the job and was fantastic at it, earning the respect and admiration of Nissan customers and staff alike. She is gifted in sales, understood the intricacies of the paperwork and loved working with people. And they loved her. What an incredible way to grow up in the working world. We are so proud of her.
Pat and I collect our stuff, pack up and head out. Not only are we NOT on the top, but, it turns out, we have quite a ways to go! The next open view arrives and I am sure we are on the summit now and I take my pack off and lie down in the sun. But we're not there yet. Back on the trail, up and over a few more humps before we finally arrive on the top with clear incredible views all around us. As I soak in the views, it dawns on me that this is the view I want of my life. I want to be able to see it all, to be able to see my destination so I know where I am going. Standing on top of Moat Mountain, I can see for miles and miles. I want to see my journey as if from the top of a mountain. Then I would be sure I was going in the right direction. But that is not how it works. We can't see the whole journey, we just see the next step. And once I take that, I see the next step. We don't get a whole view of life except when we look back in retrospect.
We head down the mountain, into the woods, where the views are much more like those we have of life - just a step or two ahead of where we are. We arrive back at Diana's Baths - a series of granite terraces, cascading falls, waterspouts and rock basins along Lucy Brook. We had hoped to sink our tired bodies into the cool refreshing water, but it is packed with people so we keep walking with Pinta and Dejah who are looking longingly back at the water.
We get to the car, enjoy our cold drinks and begin the long drive home.
We're at the Bedford Village Inn. It's Saturday, August 14, a few minutes before 6 PM, and Jess asks me to button the buttons that run down the back of her wedding gown. I'm touched to my core by this moment. She looks so beautiful I can feel my heart swell so full of love it hurts. I kneel down behind her, realizing I will remember and hold this memory in my heart forever. I begin at the bottom and work my way up, each button surrounded by lace and ivory splendor. As I struggle with each tiny button, I can see Jess smiling at me as a little girl, her eyes so big and bright and full of life. It's hard to believe that she is all grown up and about to be married.
The wedding is supposed to start at 6 PM. It is 6:05 and the photographer says, "It's time." Jess responds. "This is how I roll. This is my show. They can wait."
I relax a little and laugh to myself, realizing that it has always been Jess' show. How can you not love that about her? She knows who she is and she stays true to her path, every step of the way.
It is 6:15 PM. Don walks me to my seat in the front row. I am surrounded by 175 friends and family, all sitting in their white seats, blue skies above, bright green grass beneath, encompassed by flowers as the strains of Pachelbel's Canon fill the air with a breeze of music. Here comes Jess, on Don's arm. I am filled with love and the emotion of seeing the girl I gave birth to 25 years ago, bathed in her own beauty, smiling, radiant, walking toward her husband-to-be. She reaches Sean and turns around and hugs her Dad and then comes over and hugs me. My breath catches in my throat, tears stinging my eyes, thrilled to be included in the giving away. Jess takes Sean's hands.
The officiant says, "Family is paramount to this union. Jessica and Sean are both mindful and appreciative of the strong and fine examples of marriage their parents continue to provide for them. These examples will be their most cherished gift today."
Tears roll down my cheeks.
Jess and Sean turn towards each other and recite their vows.
I Jessica, take you Sean to be my husband.
My love for you is unconditional.
I respect you, and trust you with my life.
Marriage is a commitment,
Pledging ourselves to each other,
For the rest of our lives.
I will be faithful to you.
I will look for ways to inspire you,
And honor us.
They look right in each other's eyes, and their faces reflect the love they have for one another. That is when I know for sure this is right.
Maybe I can't see their future lives laid out like the vista from the mountaintop, just like I can't see mine. But I can see in this moment that Sean and Jess truly love each other. They are on their own path, following their own arrow. May it take them to the summits of mountains. May they know the joy of loving each other for many many years, as Don and I know, now married for 33 years. And may they have a strong-willed beautiful brown-eyed little girl, just like Jess, to remind them that we all have our own path.
** Wedding pictures were taken by Jessica Grant, wedding photographer extraordinaire! Here is a link to her website: http://www.jessfoto.com/ and her blog: http://jessphoto.blogspot.com/