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Take Smaller Steps by Barb Hampton

I have come to recognize the Essence of Season in my Cycles of Change. I have lived in the Winter, where change felt impossible in the harsh frozen world around me. Then Spring arrives, and a change moves into my consciousness. The ideas are fresh, the choices seem endless. With hope in my heart, I plant possibilities all around me. I turn my soul to the Fall I know will come, the moment when I will harvest my growth.

You will notice I skipped Summer. Summer is the season in the Cycle of Change I don’t particularly like.

In the Summer, you have to do the watering and the weeding. The ground must be constantly nurtured for the ideas to bloom. Daily labor, hot sun on your neck, bugs buzzing around your ears. Summer is the season in a Cycle of Change where the work happens. Every Summer brings that Mid-Summer Moment. Too far from Spring to remember the wonder, too far from Fall to focus on the harvest, floundering on a day when it all is just too much. Each time I’m there, in that moment, I remember something that happened a very long time ago.

It was a hot summer day in July. The wildlife preserve announced they were going to temporarily lower the water level in the large man-made lake near our home. While I had taken very little notice of this event, my husband was thrilled. He said the refuge authorities were encouraging people to take advantage of this rare opportunity to enjoy areas that were usually either underwater or within the fenced refuge boundaries. This meant he could take me into areas he had fondly explored as a child. I knew we couldn’t miss this unique experience when I asked him point-blank, "Do we have to do this?” and he replied "Of course, we do!”

I should have realized what I was getting myself into during the long discussion of my apparel for that day. "Oh no," he said, "you can’t wear shorts, you’ll need long pants. I’ve got a flannel shirt you can put on, and I’ll help you dig out your winter boots.” When I balked at this, he patiently explained, “We’ll probably be walking through some brush and a little mud and there might be a few bugs”.

What sounded questionable before now sounded definitely onerous, so I asked again why we were doing this. He explained, "People don't just throw trash overboard. Sometimes they drop really good Stuff." When he realized I was not being drawn in, he enticingly added, “You like arrowheads, don't you? I’ll be able to get you to where I always found arrowheads.”

That’s how I came to be standing at the edge of what looked like a mud pit on a hot July afternoon. I was in awe at the male fascination with Stuff as I watched David and my son, Shawn, retrieve two returnable bottles from an unidentifiable twisted mass it would never have even occurred to me to touch. All I saw were cans, rocks and broken fishing rods. David stacked their treasures in the pile we would claim on our return trip as he assured me the arrowheads were just on the other side. All I had to do was walk through the recently drained part of the Bay. I watched as David and my son, Shawn, walked across. Then they called to me, saying it wasn’t too bad. I should take my time and remember to keep moving. Easier said than done I soon found.

I got stuck. That’s right. Stuck! I found myself standing ankle deep in mud, legs stretched about three feet apart, trying desparately to keep my balance. I did what any faithful follower does. I hollered for help!

My man, the love of my life, responded in his usual "Here’s what you need to do now" voice and said… “Come on!”… words that to this day do not necessarily endear me to him. I hollered back, "How do you suggest I do that, honey?" Okay. That’s not exactly what I said but it’s close enough to make my point, because what he said next has been with me ever since that hot July afternoon when I stood in the mud totally convinced I would not leave this situation with my dignity intact.

He simply said; "Take smaller steps..."

I thought, at that moment, those were the stupidest words I had ever heard in my life. My mind organized quickly: “I need to get out of here. I need to get out of here quickly before I fall down. Smaller steps will not get me out of here any quicker.” These calm, logical thoughts were driven by the image of what I was going to do to my dearly beloved when I reached the safety of the dry piece of ground he was standing on. So, after I managed to dislodge one foot from the sucking mass of goo that was wrapped around me, I proceeded. I took another large step.

This time, I almost fell.

When the wavering stopped, I took a careful deep breath. It seemed I had no alternative but to try his method. What I say now, I say only because he never browses the Web and I know he will not read this column. His method worked. Smaller steps allowed me to keep my balance. He was right.

These days I'm in the process of trying to finish an Associate's Degree at the local junior college, and I feel the pressure of a Mid-Summer Day in this Cycle of Change. I leave work every day at 5:00, fight the traffic, arrive at home just long enough to pull off my pantyhose and heels, swallow a little food and get to my seat in a classroom by 6:00. When I’m not running this routine, I’m either doing homework I barely understand or trying to beat back what feels like throngs of people who are used to my presence.

I try hard to remember his words. Sometimes, it's a five minute walk around the garden. I give myself fifteen minutes to look at a magazine before I return to trying to figure out how soon Train A will catch Train B. Maybe it's a few minutes at a bookstore, walking through the popular fiction section on the way to literary criticism. Some days, it's as simple as allowing myself to worry about what is due tomorrow instead of thinking about whether I'm on track for what's due in two weeks.

Even with my best efforts, there are times I stand in the middle, stuck in the goo of too many obligations, wavering so badly I'm sure I'll fall. So I look at my man, still standing on dry ground, and I scream, “Why did I think I needed to do this?” He's a lot smarter after twenty- nine years. "Come on" he shouts, enticing me with the supper he has fixed for me, "You can do it. Take smaller steps".

Author's Note: Barbara Hampton graduated on May 14, 1999 from John A. Logan College with an Associates in Liberal Arts, completing a degree she started eighteen years ago. As this was the last item on her list of Things I Want to do Before the Year 2000, her new goal is to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Creative Writing and Literature. Her husband has agreed to make sure she is properly attired for the adventure.

Barb Hampton is a lady who wears many hats. In fact, she has so many hats that she carries a hat rack with her at all times. She describes herself as: Wife and Companion, Assistant Trust Officer, Empress, Grandmother, Mother, Friend, Minister, and Writer, although not necessarily in that order. "My goal is to be more than a figment of my imagination."

E-mail Barbara at:

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