All my life I’ve been hearing the adage that “it will be all downhill from there”—a phrase implying that the hard part would be over and the rest would be pain-free, effortless, easy … decidedly not difficult.
I thought of this adage on the fourth day of our recent walking pilgrimage. As I wrote at the end of that day, “The first mile or so was a pretty steep uphill climb, and then the rest was downhill—which may sound easier, but was merely a different kind of difficult, as steep as it was.”
In our reflection circle that night, I told our group, “I hated today’s walk.” It was downhill, but it was not easy! The terrain was rough and gravelly, the slope was very steep, and—perhaps most relevantly—based on my interpretation of the preview materials, it was much more challenging than I had expected it to be.
I was especially surprised, then, to hear from fellow travelers that it had not felt particularly challenging to them, that it was easier than they’d expected, that they’d found the forest to be particularly beautiful that day, and <gasp!> that they’d enjoyed the day’s journey!
I’m remembering this experience today, in the wake of Tuesday’s midterm elections, because many of us with progressive values are feeling relieved about much of the outcome, especially here in Maryland. (Though I’m still holding my breath about the final Board of Education results.) The hard work of campaigning and poll-working is over, the future of our democracy may not be quite as devastated as we’d thought it would be, and it’s all downhill from here.
Of course we know that’s not true. We know that the work of actual governance is not easy—neither for elected officials nor for those of us who hold them and one another to account—and we know that, like the downhill into Assisi, there’s a very real risk that we could tumble ourselves into an injured mess. Especially if we don’t take care, if we don’t use our hiking poles, if we don’t pay attention to the guidance of those who’ve traveled the path before us.
It’s true in our democracy. It’s true in UUCC—as we carefully emerge from the stricter confines of a pandemic and other challenges and navigate our way forward. And it’s true in each of our individual lives, in relationships and families and vocational ventures.
So, let us use the resources available to us—the metaphorical maps and hiking sticks and pilgrim guides—and pay attention to the trail, taking care of where we step, tending to what’s immediately in our path before we look too far ahead and then trip on our own feet.
And also, let’s not walk alone. Not only is the journey enriched by our companions, but it’s great to have a helping hand when inevitably we stumble. (Ask me how I know. ;-))