On Tuesday, January 1, 2019, I went for a walk.
Walking is important to me. It’s physical and spiritual exercise, helps to wake me up, and helps to center me. For years, when I worked a regular Monday to Friday job, I got up much earlier than I needed to in order to walk for an hour first thing in the morning. Now that my routine is different, I still try to make room for walks often.
And for a number of years it’s become my key practice to start the New Year. What better way to greet the new year than to put on my shoes and actually go out and experience it?
I’ve never been one for resolutions. And in recent years, when it’s become more popular to talk about setting intentions for the new year, or selecting a single word as a theme or focal point – well, to be honest, I’ve scoffed at those ideas too. “Make change when you’re ready to make change!” I would insist. “It doesn’t have to be tied to a date!”
On January 1 of this year, I went for a walk without intentions. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t give any special significance to the walk. My eyes were open, and I tried to leave my mind and heart open to any message or idea that the brand-new year might present to me.
About a mile north of my house, there is a steep hill with a paved private road that runs past a few horse farms and at least one set of beehives. It doesn’t receive much traffic and sometimes looks as though it’s being reclaimed by the surrounding foliage. As I began the climb, I noticed something in the road ahead of me, halfway up the hill. It was a deer, who had paused to look in my direction. Another deer emerged from the left side of the road, and they both kept an eye on me. They crossed to the right side of the road together, and suddenly from the left I saw four…seven, no EIGHT deer, all headed for the road! I had been standing completely still, but when I saw that herd of deer I slowly reached for my phone – and as soon as I moved, they all ran back into the woods. I stood, slightly awestruck, my phone forgotten in my hand. I have one photo with a tiny blurry single deer. I continued my walk up the hill, eyes peeled, but no more deer presented themselves.
As I reached the top of the hill and turned a corner, I felt very satisfied…perhaps even a little smug. I had walked out into 2019 and it had presented me with beautiful wonders from the natural world! A peaceful, pastoral scene! What a wonderful beginning to the year!
Lost in thought, and also lost in whatever podcast I was listening to, I began to make the right turn onto the shoulder of a fairly busy road that would take me back down one hill and up another towards my home. I was so lost in…podcast that I didn’t realize the woman driving the car in the turn lane next to me had stopped and rolled down her window to say something. I turned my attention to her, took out my earbuds, and said, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Do you need a ride?” she asked again. “I’m going in the same direction, do you need help?”
“Oh!” I said, “No thank you! I’m just out on a walk!” I paused briefly, then said again, emphatically, “Thank you so much!!”
“You’re welcome,” she said, “Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year to you too!” I said, and waved as she drove off.
A moment later I thought to take a picture of the road ahead of me, downhill, bathed in diffuse sunshine from behind light cloud cover. Her car was no longer visible. I kept saying “thank you, thank you” softly as tears came to my eyes.
It never occurred to me for a moment that the sign the new year would send me would come from another human being. She took a risk, stood ready to sacrifice her time (and possibly her safety – I was a stranger, after all!), all to see that another human being was cared for.
The real message 2019 wanted to send me was one of radical kindness. My year – my path forward – are dedicated to this woman and her model of this bold act of hospitality.
Dear ones, as we open our eyes to the realization that we’re almost a month into our no-longer-as-new year, I would invite you to keep your eyes and hearts and minds open. You can set a new intention any time you would like to. The good work of being human is all around us.