“I tell you this
To break your heart
By which I mean only
That it break open and never close again
To the rest of the world”
- Mary Oliver
My pilgrimage in England had less to do with me finding answers to all of the questions I had for my life and more to do with opening myself up to the air of the world and letting it move through me and transform me in ways I could not put into words. The transformation I walked through began deep within as I slowly surrendered to the goodness of life. It was hard to accept goodness initially as I had spent so much time dwelling on the negativity that had infused my life. But with each conscious decision to celebrate the goodness of my present moments, I began to transform. Much of this change occurred in the smallest, most silent of moments.
Walking along the high cliffs beside the churning of the waves and within the constant flow of the wind. My days were filled with small gifts that made me more grateful and taught me the beauty of embracing each little moment I had. I would turn a corner on a path and come across a field pregnant with wildflowers or a flock of sheep grazing or two people embracing each other as they soaked in the beauty of the sea. The more I gave of myself to each of these gifts, the more alive they made me feel. I have strived to bring this significant new love and openness to the now within each day of my life.
As I leaned into the now and all of its beauty and life, I could feel myself becoming whole again. I became lighter. I felt the freedom to be grateful again. I felt the freedom to be open again, to the present and to people. This openness led me to some of the most remarkable people along my journey that transformed me and marked me deeply. My journey would not be complete without the people who showed me kindness and compassion.
Within the third week of my trip, I was walking along the marshlands of the Taw-Torridge estuaries when I came across an elderly man walking down the path to his home. He stopped me as I passed him and asked why I was taking photos with my phone of two kids that I had passed before him. I shared that I was a photographer who, like an idiot, left her camera in London, and that I was hiking the whole SouthWest Coastal Path and enjoyed photographing the people I met along the way. He began talking with me about the people he has met who have been passing through as hikers.
As he began to tell me about a girl he met from Australia who was so hardcore she would sleep outside without a tent and bathe in the ice-cold ocean, tears began to stream down his face. I was unsure as to whether they were fueled by emotion or if it was because it was cold outside, but either way, the kindness that radiated from the pools of his eyes pierced me. I asked if I could take a photo of him. He looked around and pointed at a boat sitting on top of the marshy land. He told me I could take a photo of him sitting on the boat as long as I told everyone that it was his wreck of a boat. “A wreck on a wreck,” he said. I laughed, watched him walk down slowly, take a seat, and give me the most genuine smile. He gave me a gift with that photo that I will hold onto forever.
It was not until the next day after Raymond found me again on the trail heading to Appledore and we sat and shared stories over Americanos together that I found out he worked on a ship for 45 years. He told me, with tears in his eyes, that leaving the sea was the hardest thing he had ever done. I thought about the photo I had taken of him and how he wanted to be remembered as the man on the boat. I thought about the beauty of that moment and how grateful I was for meeting him. How grateful I was for his openness and for softening my heart toward people again.
Raymond’s kindness toward me marked me forever. After sharing about our lives, he took me to an outdoors shop and bought me a new, smaller pack. Without hesitation he grabbed the one I wanted out of my hand and bought it. Raymond taught me to live openly and let every encounter with another person be an opportunity to leave a lasting mark. He softened my heart towards people in a new way and gave me the courage to be open to the people I would continue to meet and be changed by over the next 5 weeks.
I use the pack that Raymond Perkins bought me often. Every time I am packing my clothes in it or am putting it on for a hike, I think of him and his kind eyes. I think of when we stood underneath a bridge on the way to Appledore and he protected my big pack from the rain blowing in sideways. I think of when he turned to me before we parted ways and asked if I believed in a higher power. I think of his sea worn face and gentle hands wrapped around his coffee cup as he shared his heart with me - a stranger. The pack he gave me was more than a convenience he bought me. It was an act of selflessness that helped me find my way back to hope. It is the pack that I plan to carry when Eddie and I hike the Appalachian Trail in the future. This time, we will be on a journey together, carrying with us the kindness of people who transformed us and helped us find our way back to the hope in our love.