My first walk since coming down with Coronavirus symptoms about a fortnight ago. I’ve been building towards this in my head: One day I’ll be symptom free again… One day I’ll get round without a cough, no one will stare, though I’m beyond infectious… One day my legs will be able to take me where my head (and heart) wants to go.
I set off with Fergus the dog just after it’s light, and the three minute stroll from our gate to the fields is a challenge. No coughing (though I clutch a cough sweet in my gloved palm, just in case) but it is exhausting. The dog’s enthusiasm keeps me moving, and the bright sun and transparent blue sky are exactly what I’ve wanted… but this is so hard! We take the lane off the roundabout and Fergus scatters ice from the puddles like broken glass and frightens himself. Woodpeckers drum from the woods, the sound carrying across the fields, declaring their territory and perhaps that they are attracting mates already. Life keeps going, we’re in an endless cycle, and it’s reassuring to be caught in the same frame again.
I stop to look up into a tree and watch the many birds that have just landed in it – has the dog forgotten I do this? For he’s barking and a woman scowls at me from the gate of her field-facing cottage, just one of four properties that are perhaps not used to the intrusion.
I’m conscious already of the need to get back; the usual ‘light’ route to the woods is out of the question, and the dog would be confused (and cross) if we go back the way we’ve come, so we turn right at the bottom and walk the path alongside Churchill’s tree. I let Fergus off the lead and he spots an entire colony of rabbits who’ve surfaced to take the morning air – up and down he runs while they all go to ground, though he’s hopeful of a straggler. I think of the fear in this field that this one soppy, anxious dog has created. I glance at Churchill’s tree while I wait for him to return to me, and imagine the big man addressing the troops there – where were they from? Who had they left behind? There was certainly no going back for them in that moment, just as there’s no going back for us; no rewind and equally no fast-forward.
I said to Rupert during my illness that I’d like to just skip a few days, press a button till I’m feeling better, and in his wisdom he told me that I was meant to live them, that there’s a purpose in them, and I know he’s right. I walk the length of the path – impressed that I’m not breathless, though I am shattered – and as I wait for Fergus, a heart-shaped stone catches my eye in the mud. I stoop to pull it out of the path, wipe the mud from it and place it on the fence post while I pull out the dog’s treat. I’m reminded of how my family have been looking after me during my illness, and of how fond I am of them. I’m also thinking about how God has carried me through this, and how he wants me to keep going, focusing on the small achievements, and his sustaining presence that’s always there for me, no matter how weak I feel.
I soak the stone in a bowl of water when I’m home. I’m feeling glad of this one small triumph and the stone marks for me my first walk, my intention to get back to full strength. I’m thinking of a white stone that’s mentioned in Revelation. There are lots of theories about what it signifies, but one speaks of how white stones were presented to winners in the athletic games, with the victors’ names written on them. These were ‘tickets’ to a banquet, so it is said. I think many of us are struggling right now, and for a variety of different reasons. I think God’s intention is to help us to overcome, if we’ll let him. Perhaps the white stone is figurative, or perhaps one day we really will be in receipt of one. Until then, I’m going to hold onto whatever promises he gives me, and appreciate the reminders of blessing that I stumble on in my path.
“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).