Hiking with a Father

We like hiking.  And by “we”, I don’t mean “Ken and I like hiking, and so we force the children to endure it with us.”

I actually mean “we” as in “all of us”.  Oh sure, we’re not all at the same fitness levels, and we generally have different objectives for the activity, but everyone enjoys it.

Hiking goals are pretty straightforward:

– eat as many snacks as possible on the trail.  If possible, eat them all before the first quarter mile and/or siblings start looking for some. (Jude)

– present the mother figure with every single rock, stick, and leaf that catches your eye, ensuring that a short 20 minute hike will stretch into a 50 minute one (Gabriel)

– leave obscure (and ephemeral) trail markers to guide you back to the van.  Never be able to find said marks on the return trip (Joaquin)

– strike up conversations with every single person you meet on the hike explaining that you’re tracking Big Foot, and have they seen signs of activity? (Lotus)

– repeatedly hit the father figure on the head with canteen in an increasingly frantic means of escaping the backpack (John-Luke)

– convince self that the hike will more than make up for the chocolate cake, beer, and pizza from the night before (me)

and finally, with unfailing consistency,

-bring up the rear, shooing any child forward who tries to lag behind (Ken)

Never fails.  And while the kids’ goals change and switch according to age and climactic conditions, Ken never ever alters his.  He doesn’t push up front to set the pace.  He doesn’t stay in the middle to rally the troops.  He brings up the rear, end of story.

Today, while I was at the early Mass with just me, myself, and baby Veronica, I distracted my thoughts from veering off down “woe is me, we can’t attend Mass as a whole family” paths by really looking at what was around me.  Usually, I’m pulled in so many different directions (bathroom! it’s my turn to sit next to Mommy! that kid up there has Cheerios why can’t we have Cheerios! he hit me!  don’t pick your nose/leave your shoes on/get out from under the pew!) that by the time the processional starts, I’ve already used up any graces I have been given by being there.  But today, with only a sleeping infant in my arms, I was able to think about what surrounds us at Mass and what Holy Mother Church is trying to tell us through them.

As the processional started, I thought about how it’s supposed to signify our journey through life.  Here is a truncated, visual reminder that our lives should be a pilgrimage toward Heaven.  There was an altar server, holding the Crucifix up at the front of the line, reminding us that we’re meant to be always following Christ.  Next came two more servers, holding candles, signals that Jesus is the light of the world, and He lights the way for us.  The lector, and some EMHCs followed after, standing in for all of us as we make our own journeys.

Finally, bringing up the rear, was our priest.  A tangible reminder that Christ instituted the priesthood to, among other things, serve as shepherds to make sure none of His sheep lagged behind and were lost.

I suddenly thought about our family hikes, a procession of sorts, and how instinctively Ken took his self-appointed spot at the back, to serve as a shepherd to make sure none of his little sheep lagged behind and were lost.

God is everywhere, and all the time trying to talk to us.  He’s not just at the top of a mountain somewhere, idly wondering if the hikers are going to find their way to Him or not.  He is actively participating in our journey, blazing trails, painting markers on trees, clearing fallen branches and boulders out of our way.  He gives us maps to guide our trip, He gives us nourishment to fuel our souls, and He gave us fathers, both biological and spiritual, to bring up the rear, making sure no one gets lost.

So happy Father’s Day to all the men out there who are doing just that- putting yourself last to make sure no one gets left behind.

(and sorry about the canteen-induced concussion)



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Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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