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  • Writer's picturecherylmurfin

Day 1: Undotting, uncrossing

Updated: Nov 16, 2023


Fields of gold just out of Melrose

I had a plan. I worked on it for months. All Ts crossed, all Is dotted. We were going to walk and write and share and eat a lot of scones. And bacon. There would be no glitches. At all. Because I had planned so well. And to prove it, all six participants in the workshop made it from Seattle to Edinburgh.


Seattle to Scotland

And yet, as we bumped through the sky toward Scotland, I had a strong feeling the friends I brought with me to St. Cuthbert’s Way were friend’s I would need to leave behind: My dearest pal Inflexibility (called Anxiety by those of us who love her) and my business partner Control. As the airplane wheels hit the tarmac, my friends popped out of the overhead compartment and asked if it was cocktail hour. Less than 24 hours later, one of our merry band of walking writers tested positive for COVID. Inflexibility and Control cinched in their belts and puffed up their chests and went to work. Rather than gathering five members of the band — the sixth, already in Scotland chasing her Pict ancestry would meet us later — the one Airbnb I’d arranged to start our adventure, I scrambled to find an 11th-hour separate accommodation for our own “Typhoid Mary” to give her time and space to rest and to protect the rest of us. Not this moniker was wryly self-appointed! But let us refer to her as TM going forward.

It is a point of personal triumph that I felt only a slight and warm panic as I realized my long-scheduled two-per-room accommodations weren’t going to work in this scenario. I scrambled to make last minute reservations for one extra room for the first six days of our 10-day walk, in hopes TM would test negative sometime in that window. Amazingly, I succeeded in finding rooms for several of those days, which I’m just going to call what it is: a god shot. For the rest, I and TM would bunk together, turned toward opposite sides of the room with N95s glued to our faces. We both laughed out loud when we walked into our first shared room in the quaint village of Melrose and found a lovely, very comfortable double bed. I sat Inflexibility in a chair facing the corner of the room. Control stood outside all night in the drizzle. As the two of them sniveled and whined, I got to know TM better, soon realizing what a gift I’d been given in getting to share a room with her. Fun, funny, deep, and with several shared passions, I felt immediately connected to my roommate. I have to admit Inflexibility told me later she felt a little jealous and abandoned. I promised her she couldn’t get rid of me that easily.


Full Scottish Breakfast

We awoke on that first day eager to set out on the path and start the walk. So, after a filling breakfast we made a beeline to the official start point of this pilgrimage: Melrose Abbey. As we headed out I couldn't help but wonder: how often do actual Scots actually eat The Full Scottish?! The inside of the abbey structure is not currently safe for visitors, but we wandered around the lush grounds and, one-by-one, tipped our walking sticks not only to St. Cuthbert, for whom the abbey was once home, but also to Robert the Bruce’s heart, which a stone in the ground promised is buried there. History check: Robert the Bruce was king of Scotland from 1306 to 1329 and led the country during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. Apparently he wanted his heart to take its final rest on Holy Island, where we are headed on this walk. How the Bruce’s heart got stuck in Melrose is anyone’s guess.


Melrose Abbey

From the abbey, the beginning of the 7-ish-mile went straight uphill. AndI noticed that like a mother duck I set to internally worry-quacking about every walker but myself. Were they OK? Was the climb too much? What if someone pooped out in the middle of nowhere? Clearly, Control had leapt into my backpack without my noticing. Thankfully, as we crawled over the Eildan Hills (the remains of an underground volcanic eruption), I recognized her weight and booted her back down the red rock path. These wonderful walking writers, I reminded myself, were all adults. Incredibly, my companions had, somehow, without any assistance whatsoever from me, made it to their ripe-ish ages and all the way to Scotland — and done so with far less luggage than me. So who really needed the mothering?


Walking down Eildan Hills

Heading down the first hill it occurred to me that I might want to worry about myself for once. My knees were already bellowing and we hadn’t yet been on the path for two hours. The path between Melrose and St. Boswell’s was lined with thistle and wild raspberry, mossy rocks and whispering grasses. While we started out in a bank of gray, by the time we neared the top of the highest hill, the sun was out and shining its orange-red light over everything, coloring the path a deeper rust and verdant farmlands below countless shades of green. As we took in that view, a wild and bucking wind howled around us. You haven’t met the wind until you've met her in a high place. Its roars and moans filled our ears, our hair, our eyes. Our jackets flapped like the wind tunnel men that dance outside too many gas stations in America. As we floated down the ridge on gusty tails, it occurred to me that I might want to eat more to give myself some ballast. Across every hill the heather offered last blooms and their already-dried sisters. The wind slowed its ripping and began to sing instead, each blade of grass, each leaf of plant became an instrument in the symphony. Eventually, we came to a lowland run. Out came the iPhones, the Google maps. It happens every time I walk with a group. The concern, however slight, of getting lost. Or, minimally, the desire for reassurance you’re headed in the right direction.


St. Cuthbert Way waymark

St. Cuthbert’s is marked by yellow arrows, although, admittedly, they’re sometimes hard to find. I found myself wise-womaning suggestions like “Just follow the signs” and “We’ll get there eventually” and “You can’t really get lost” to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the seasoned wilderness wanderers in our band. It was then, in an odd reversal of her nature, Control whispered to me: “Let them get there how they get there. It’s their journey.” As for me, I set out on this path committed to following the signs, seen or unseen. Why? Because if I’ve learned anything about pilgrimage, it’s that you can’t really be lost. You’ll get where you're going even if you never look at a map. Walking a pilgrimage isn’t really about being alone. It’s about meeting the people along the way — strangers — and being supported by them in myriad ways. Nowhere is there a better time to stop and ask for directions. I’d already felt this truth — crawling into bed next to a “stranger” on the first night of our walk and waking up to a friend. It’s true when you walk a pilgrimage you may find yourself in a town not on the map, being guided by a local back to the path. You may walk more miles than the guidebook indicated you should to get “there.” But you are never lost.

 

THE PROMPT

As we set out on the walk, we considered what it means "to carry" and, ultimately, the carrier — the vessel. Take a piece of clay out, close your eyes, and mold it into a vessel. Whatever vessel calls to you, perhaps it is a boat, a cup, a flower, something inside. If you don't have clay, spend 20 minutes sketching as you consider the word "vessel." Take yur time. As your hand creates really ponder the word. Now, pull out your paper and write for 30 minutes to 1 hour.


 

THE WRITING


Vessel


Vessel

By Ruth Purcell


A canoe. Gene is in front.


We did a lot of canoeing in our 33 years together, he was always in the back, steering.


In my sculpture, I’m in the back, he is in the front, but only as a spirit.


I absolutely feel that he is on this journey with me. I have been unbable to think about our life together, to look at photographs, or even to listen to the music we listened to. I have closed and locked that door for now.


But I completely accept and feel his spirit with me.


A while ago, I wrote this poem:


I feel your spirit nearby

Come closer, I will breathe you in

There’s a place above my heart

Where you can live forever


Now I visualize my heart as the place he stays. It’s all pink and red with really cushy couches. Other people stop by to hang out, usually my mom and dad are there.


So this vessel includes all of my physical pieces, the ones that will transport me to Lindisfarne. On board are also the spiritual pieces, the gear in my head, my sorrow joy, hope, aspirations, dreams and fears. And my heart hotel with all of its cushy couches.


This makes me think about dualism, the mind and the body being separate. Our thoughts can certainly get our body into a lot of trouble. We have a saying in AA, “The brain would have killed the body off years ago if it didn’t need the transportation.”


I have recently taken up a meditation practice, and am not just meditating, but learning about meditating. One interesting concept was that our thoughts don’t define us, that we are not our thoughts. That’s a big one to chew on.


There’s a big focus on the heart center, where the true self lives. Some of the things I’m putting together in medication are ideas that I had a thread of on my own personal journey over the last two years.


Like many people in the AA fellowship, I had been struggling to find my “higher power.” This is an important part of the 12 Steps. I grew up Catholic, and though I loved the stories about Jesus, I could get into God. God seemed petty and thin-skinned to me. We can’t take his name in vain? Come on. So that God as a higher power was out.


After Gene’s death, my dear sister asked how I was able to carry on. I said, “I don’t really know, it’s as if I have some inner light that keeps me warm, fills me with love, and helps guide my way.” Then it hit me, boom. I said to myself, “Dude, that’s your higher power.” I was looking outside myself when it was within me the whole time.



Vessel

Half-empty Half-full



By Cheryl Murfin


My cup

Half full

Still

Runneth over


Up to the rim and over

Yet

it remains

Half empty


Empty and full

I hold

This vessel

Up


I hold it up, aloft

To smell

And taste

Life


This life

Half-empty, half-full

A contrast

a taught tension


Tension

Between selves

Between lines

Invisible


Only visible in

This cup

Are choices

Made


And those unmade

Other pathways

unmarked

Missed







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