Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Wish You Rainy Days (Fairfield & Lexington, VA)

Sam, Kenmar, Martha, Kennan and me in Fairfield on Wednesday night

I wish you rainy days, so you can know the beauty of a clear blue sky
I wish you falling leaves so you understand that seasons change
- Heather Headley, I Wish

I woke up Wednesday morning in Waynesboro and immediately knew autumn had arrived in full force. I had fallen asleep with the window open and I shivered in the brisk morning air. When I looked at the weather forecast it was worse than I thought. Winter had pushed autumn aside and bullied itself straight to the front of the line. It was in the low 40s outside and threatening rain. I gave a Charlie Brown sigh. I had four days of walking ahead of me until I reached Roanoke and it was clear the weather was not going to cooperate.

To add insult to bone-chillingly cold temperatures, I had done a bad of planning my walking distances this week. I fancy myself an adept planner but at times I am prone to mistakes. Just ask my boss Simon. Over five years my gaffes were few, but notable. Booking him at an aging and slightly dilapidated hotel in India. Leaving him stranded at the Philadelphia airport without a ride home. Sleeping through my alarm and missing the beginning of a board meeting I was in charge of catering. For this week, I had greatly underestimated how far I needed to get by the weekend. My feet wouldn't take me that far. I needed some automotive assistance.

On Wednesday morning it was Hannie to the rescue. After Cole and Keiko got off to school she drove me a few miles down Route 340 so I could be within walking distance of Fairfield. Two days later my hosts in Fairfield, Martha and Kennan Campbell, lent their wheels to the same cause and drove me from Lexington to Buchanan. Thus my miscalculations were erased by the kindness of my hosts.

If I hadn't of gotten help I would have been in trouble. The weather was frigid. After Hannie dropped me off on Wednesday morning I practically powered walked to Fairfield. I was trying to stay a step ahead of the rain that was predicted for later in the afternoon. The rain came shortly after I ducked into a pizza shop in Fairfield for a late lunch. After lunch Martha and Kennan picked me up and took me the last half mile to their house and I was able to stay dry.

On Thursday I had no such luck. It greeted me with temperatures still hovering in the low 40s and steady rain. I was bundled up as best I could with rain jacket, hood and layers covering my legs. Martha Campbell felt bad and offered to drive me into Lexington. I was tempted but declined. I knew when I started this journey of four months there would be plenty of days when the weather would be miserable. I needed to push through. Out into the cold, wet and wind I went.

I am trying to think about how to best describe the next three hours. I could start by looking up the word fun in the dictionary and then searching for antonyms. I kept my head down and walked, relying on podcasts to distract me from the wet chill creeping into my skin. Luckily I didn't have a normal six hours of walking. By 12:30 I reached my destination and ducked into a local diner to get some lunch. I had just ordered my chicken quesadilla and pumpkin pie and was warming up with my hands around a cup of coffee when Martha and Kennan walked in. I guess it is a small world round these parts. They had coincidentally come to the same restaurant to meet some friends. Maybe I should have just relaxed with them at home and then hitched a ride after all.

There is a big part of me that wants everything to be easy and painless. As an Executive Assistant I spent 8 hours a day (okay, sue me, maybe it was closer to 5) trying to make sure that everything in my boss' business life went as planned. So the desire for things to go perfectly is deep in my blood. But to use walking as a metaphor, can I truly appreciate those perfectly mild sunny days if I don't have some wet and rainy ones to put them in relief?

I lived in LA for eight years and experienced long stretches without rain. Just 75 degrees and sunny for weeks on end. Changes in season were so subtle I didn't even recognize them. One year blended into another, detached from the clear natural cycle of birth, blossom, decay and regeneration. On a practical level it meant that all the things I love to do - rollerblade on the beach, play tennis, take day trips - where available to me whenever I wanted without the threat of bad weather. Sounds kind of ideal. On another level, I'm not so sure. I have realized through experience that there is value in not always having access to my greatest pleasures in life.

This I know: I never enjoyed a beautiful, 75 degree Los Angeles day 1/2 as much as I enjoy the first 75 degree New York City afternoon at the dawn of spring. I walk through Central Park and I feel positively exalted. Flowers are blooming. People are smiling. The newness of that experience after a long winter gives it an emotional and physical impact that is absent without the contrast of the bitter cold days which preceded it.

That is probably why we enjoy the special occasions in life so much. We enjoy them so acutely because they are not experienced everyday. Kennan and Martha Campbell recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and their entire family flew down to the Dominican Republic to celebrate with them. They showed me the pictures on Wednesday night. There they were with their son and daughter and both of their families, enjoying the rare chance to all be together.

There are many things I enjoy so much that the thought of doing them everyday is alluring. Imagine if I could watch a new episode of The Wire 365 days a year? Give me a second to allow my heartbeat to slow down. I could easily enjoy a different Broadway musical each week. I salivate at the thought of eating at nice Manhattan restaurants every single night. But would that add to my enjoyment of the things, or eventually detract from it?

My experience is that it would ultimately drain some of pleasure for those experiences as they started to feel routine. I've had to find a healthy rhythm in my life that allows me to do things I love without going overboard. I've experienced the flip side of that - unhealthy dependency on behaviors that started out being fun and gradually became less so because of overuse.

I write all that to come back to my point about the misery of walking in the cold rain. It is undeniably miserable. But it provides perspective which allows me to enjoy the small counter-pleasures I might have otherwise taken for granted. That cup of hot coffee my hands are wrapped around. The warm shower I took Thursday night when I got to my hotel room. The warm car ride Martha and Kennan gave me the next morning to drop me off further down the road on another cold day. They feel like bigger blessings for having suffered through the cold and rain.

I'm sure other rainy days will be in my future. I wouldn't mind if those days come along with slightly higher temperatures, but even if they don't, I'll keep counting my blessings.


  1. That reminds me of the story of the little girl who wished for Christmas every day.

    I'm glad you're leaving our house on a sunny day!

    Laura in Roanoke