The Trail of Misery


So you have suicidal ideation? That’s what the doctors ask you. This is to make sure they shouldn’t send you off to some “home” where they take the shoelaces from your shoes and make you color pictures of sunsets and apple trees to make you happy.

Last week I began my day lying on the couch with a small mixing bowl on my chest, guiding mac and cheese to my mouth with a fork. This would not be due to some stroke of pain and lack of luck, where my stomach hurts from meds or my stitches are popping sore. My situation of low morale and willful decline had no reason other than I just didn’t feel like doing much else.

I started to pray. There were so many people who needed prayer. I prayed. I didn’t want to pray. I stopped praying. I stabbed a piece of macaroni with my fork and as I guided it to my mouth it fell and landed on my shirt between my very fake and very stitched up boobs. I stared at the noodle, picked it up, and was about to stick it in my mouth when I thought it might be a good idea to get out of the house.

Valley Forge National Park is all about George Washington. It’s where He kneeled in the snow and prayed, or where we feel good thinking that he kneeled in the snow and prayed. As if our nation was birthed in that moment of pain and longing all coming together with his one knee up like he was ready to take off on a sprint. Perhaps this really was the case; his constitution in the most obvious of ways being more articulated than a woman with a noodle halfway to her mouth.

Pleading, thanking, asking, I don’t know what he was talking to God about as he knelt there in the snow, sword tucked snugly into his breaches or knickers or whatever pants were called in 1777. The dates of colonial America are an utter fog to me but I do know about that winter spent at Valley Forge because there’s a museum. I should have home schooled my kids. It would have taught me all sorts of things I didn’t learn the first time around, like what lingon berries look like, how far we are from the andromeda galaxy, and my multiplication tables.

Now at Valley Forge, with the exception of a few cabins, there are trails. People walk and jog and bike all over the same hills where the American troops starved and froze that winter of 1777.

When I got to the park I looked at the different paths I could take. There were so many. Maybe right here, on this very spot, is where Washington knelt. I walked up one of the paths. Maybe it was here, where he could see the encampment. It was good that the macaroni and cheese fell on my chest. It was very good. And God called it good.

The path forked as paths tend to when you’re in a ruminating mood and trying to work yourself out of a funk. There was a sign with arrows, one pointed left and one right, uphill and into the woods. The one pointing right said The Trail of Misery. That had to be where Washington prayed. Of course. I headed up The Trail of Misery.

As much as I’m all about metaphor, The Trail of Misery isn’t metaphor. It really is miserable. It’s a steep climb with a lot of stones and not much to grab onto. And mosquitos, because they orbit my ears every month of the year except January. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy lying on the couch with macaroni on my chest and I wasn’t happy climbing The Trail of Freaking Misery.

And George was a show off, kneeling in plain sight so that someone could paint a picture of him praying and trusting God and all that. I just plain climbed, winded and depressed with mosquitos dive bombing my ears. There’s a place, a restaurant, called The Smith where I took my daughters the last time we were in NYC. Avery ordered pancakes. Eight of them piled on top of one another. This is what I thought about as I climbed the Trail of Misery. I wondered if George Washington wasn’t praying about the war or his troops but about pancakes and how much he wanted some. Or hotcakes. He would have probably called them hotcakes in 1777.

When my daughters and I were in NYC we saw an opera, Turandot. Some people say you’re not supposed to pronounce the T, other people say you are. It seemed a pretentious thing to care either way so I just called in Turandie because I’m like that, which if you think about it, is pretentious. We sat in the very top in the very last row of the MET. They call it the “family” section, which is a thoughtful and unpretentious thing to call it and where it seems pretty okay to wear jeans or whatever. I was wearing heels, so by my lights I was rockin it.

From where we sat the stage was the size of a thumbprint, but if we focused really hard and then turned our heads a tiny bit we could kind of see the costumes before they faded from our peripheral vision. The music, however, traveled the walls and ceiling in golden rivulets and fed the music straight to us, sitting in our jeans and turning our heads this way and that trying to see what was happening. It was beautiful, the music. It sounded like we were sitting right there in the orchestra pit.

Turandot is about a man who loves a woman and only gets her if he can figure out the riddle. He gets three tries. If he doesn’t figure it out he dies (gallows, I assume, but it was hard to tell from the family section). Operas need prodigious amounts of love and death to justify voices flung up to rafters so that we get to hear their beauty and power.

The riddle is a hard one. My riddle is a hard one. I can’t figure out the answer. What’s more, no one’s going to hang me from my head if I don’t get it so why bother?

When I got about halfway up The Trail of Misery, I found an old stone foundation to what had been a large house, actually a mansion. It was big enough to explore inside. There were archways and a stream right through it. I saw some sort of creature dart back into a stone well, probably a rat, but for whatever sanity I had left, I decided it was a squirrel.

From one of the windows I could look down on The Trail of Misery that I had already climbed. I know it would tie a nice bow on this story to say that from the perspective of the window (and what an awesome metaphor that would be!) everything made sense, that I could see God’s hand in all of this, however The Trail of Misery didn’t look any less miserable. I didn’t feel any great sense of accomplishment that I had ‘made it that far’ or ‘going down will be so much easier,’ or any of that nonsense. In fact, leaning out of the window, the trail only looked uglier, muddier, and I didn’t feel much like doing anything, much less picking my way down a muddy trail of rocks and branches. I was depressed, remember. An hour earlier mac-n-cheese wasn’t even hitting that sweet spot because there was no sweet spot and I wasn’t sure there ever would be again.

So, the riddle. I can’t figure it out. Job, in the Old Testament can’t figure it out, and his friends, try as the do, most certainly can’t figure it out for him.

That day lying on my couch dropping noodles on my chest did accomplish something though. Strangely, it wasn’t a beautiful vision of a meadow while leaning out a window, or wow, you’ve come so far, just keep fighting and it will all come together. Instead, today, this very day, without knowing the future I am just a little bit like Job. A tiny bit. Not a real Job where everything, absolutely everything, is taken from him, but some sort of jobishiness. Small ‘J’ with the squishiness at the end. And it brings me hope.

My difficulties have been more than breast cancer, much more, but I still think I only qualify for the lower case jobishness. Job with a capital ‘J’ is common in other parts of the world. I don’t think that I could handle that big ‘J’. But if I found myself there I would have to I suppose. Nothing would change about my God.

Nothing would change about the one I deeply love who deeply loves me. My whole house could get caught up in a tornado, my family could die, and I could be forced to eat lima beans for the rest of my short life, but my God — the one who allowed this puzzling life — allowed me the need to figure this thing out, gave me the comfort of the real Job and the comfort of the real Jesus, who suffered eons more than Job or jobishness, 

So I will kneel with Washington and pray for more than pancakes and ask for the troops to be fed, but even if not, I will agree with Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vines,

The produce of the olive fail

And the fields yield no food,

The flock be cut off from the fold

And there be no herd in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my