A few years ago, there was a period in my life when I was flying to South Carolina every month to help my mom care for my grandmother and my father. My grandmother was blind and completely dependent on my mother; my dad was on oxygen full-time and becoming frailer by the day.
Then Mother Nature delivered the punchline to her joke: my mother, too, became ill. I won’t go into the painful details. It is sufficient to say that, for one particularly difficult stint, my mother was in one hospital and my grandmother was in a different one, about an hour apart, with my father attached to his oxygen tank at home. I stayed with him and drove every day between the two hospitals.
I am no hero. Every one of us has cared for sick relatives—or, if we haven’t, it’s just a matter of time. My father and grandmother have now passed, but my mother made it through.
The gift I took away from this wrenching experience was the knowledge that we must all be able to find sanctuary within ourselves. It’s easy to become so mired in your daily responsibilities—whether you’re caring for children or elderly parents, meeting stiff deadlines at work, or worrying about global news headlines–that you lose yourself in the shuffle and become unable to function because all you do is worry.
During that bad stretch in South Carolina, I discovered a beach between the two hospitals. This particular beach wasn’t the nicest one in the area, but it had a parking area between two condominiums and it was virtually deserted. I’d visit my grandmother in the morning, drive to the other hospital to visit my mother, and then stop at the beach to walk for twenty minutes–ten minutes up and ten minutes back–before going home to fix dinner for my father. The next day, I’d get up in the morning and do it all over again.
That daily barefoot walk in the stinging air was enough to get me through a bad stretch, and I have kept that habit of walking every day, not for exercise, but as a way of literally walking into a calmer place. Every morning, I drive my son to school and, before I go to my office, I stop and walk the dog somewhere between the bus stop and our house.
It doesn’t matter where I walk. It is only essential that I do it—and that I leave my cell phone in the car. If I have errands in town, I walk there. Other days I hike along a river or through the woods. Today I stopped by a farm and took a trail leading down through their growing fields to let myself be amazed by the fruit trees in bloom.
Twenty minutes of peace and motion: that’s the surest way to find sanctuary within myself, to feel prepared to open my heart to whatever life brings to my door.