It was a dark morning yesterday. You may have noticed. I opened my agenda yesterday morning to see that I had pencilled in a visit to Stella. Stella is an 84 year old woman I visit every week or two. She’s a firecracker though her body perpetually lets her down and she is confined to a wheelchair. She lives in a beautiful seniors’ residence with her bird, Sir Percy. Yesterday morning, I did not want to visit Stella. That’s the truth. But even more than that, I couldn’t face the sound of disappointment in her voice if I called to cancel my visit. So I went.
There’s much I could tell about Stella. She is an amazing woman and I hope one day to share more of her story but for now suffice it to say that every day of her 84 years has been filled to the brim with life – all its joys and sorrows and victories and losses. Oh, and she gave birth to seven children. That detail sheds a fair amount of light on who Stella is.
Yesterday morning I went to visit Stella with a heavy heart. It isn’t hard to visit Stella. She has a bit of a rebellious streak and so her stories usually involve some sort of mischief – either her own or someone’s she admires! Sometimes Stella seems sad when I visit. This morning she wasn’t sad. But this morning she wanted to talk about something sad. She wanted to tell me about the death of her son. It’s a very hard story that also involves the death of her three-month old grandson. And yet she plodded on, stopping only when she’d told the whole thing through.
We sat there for a quiet moment (there aren’t often quiet moments when you’re with Stella!), each lost in our own thoughts. And then she spoke, with a strong voice: all you can do is carry on. You just have to carry on. That’s how life works.
I know that in some contexts that might sound trite or unsympathetic but knowing Stella the way I do and being in that moment I felt like I’d been given a little stone of truth. Something I could hold onto in the midst of a moment that feels unreal and too heavy. Something that felt both like the deepest truth and the most practical advice I’d ever received. You just have to carry on. In the alignment of events called life, I’ve just finished reading a book called Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. It’s no deep philosophy tome but it is full of those little stones of truth: we can do hard things and we belong to each other for example. One of the more poignant ideas that Glennon suggests is the idea that we can’t always know how the story will turn out but we can choose to do the next right thing, whatever that is, whatever the next thing is, no matter how foggy or uncertain the future may be. No matter how dark the valley is. No matter how thick the mud you stand in. Sometimes all we can do is the next thing. Sometimes trying to see beyond the next thing is too much. All you can do is carry on.
Stella is many things. At the top of the list is a sage.
May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground, carry on.