The Next Stone in the Stream

I know it has been way too long since you have heard from me. Even the best of friends have to keep in regular contact. You deserve better. I know you do. To be honest, I was allowing life to get in the way, indulging myself in a new romance. And I call myself a writer! Hemmingway would never have allowed such a thing.

Many, many blog posts have been drafted in the time since you last heard from me – about releasing turtle hatchlings into the waves to face their fate against both natural and human predators, about the shame I feel at the way American ex-pats in Costa Rica ignore the laws and disrespect the people in whose country they have chosen to live, about the threats that the verdant Osa Peninsula is under and the remarkable people who are working to protect it.

But the posts never got further than draft form. I was always distracted from their completion by the call of my heart. It has been a whirl-wind couple of months. After I returned – safely, thank god – from Panama, I became sweet on a man who, it turned out, was sweet on me.

So when my passport expired in April, I didn’t return to the States permanently. I returned just long enough to have a new passport issued, see family and friends, and buy additional gear for a new life – a full-suspension mountain bike, a larger tent, a camping hammock. While I was home, I was also able to talk with more people about how I could possibly help with the conservation of the Osa, and an opportunity presented itself. So I returned to Costa Rica three weeks ago walking on air, heading to what I thought was a life of my dreams – love, meaningful conservation work, and time to continue my writing.

That dream survived, oh…..let’s see…….about 4 days.

I won’t go into the gory details. I know you’re not interested in the specifics. OK, maybe you are, but you’re going to have to buy me a really nice glass of wine, maybe two, before I spill all.

Suffice it to say that things were much more complicated in my beau’s life than I had realized. It wasn’t really the complications that were the problem; we probably could have worked through those. The problem was that in response to the confusion and guilt he was feeling, he chose to be unkind to me.

As I swung in the hammock night after night watching the sunset paint the sky, a coati rummaging for yummies in the lavender shadows, the silhouettes of pelicans gliding silently along the burnished waves, I tried to get a grasp on what was happening and to figure out what the hell I was going to do.

And I got to thinking about something I had learned while walking the trails in the rain forest.

Over the past couple of years of upheaval in my life, I had developed the personal philosophy of “The Next Stone in the Stream.” As plan after plan collapsed, as change after change reduced my self-esteem to rubble, as solid ground repeatedly turned to mush beneath my feet, I had consoled myself with the mantra, “just the next stone in the stream.” When something didn’t work out, I would breathe, and look for the next place to put my foot.

When I arrived in Costa Rica last December and would walk the seaside trail through the jungle, I would tighten my Tevas on my feet and pick my way along the trail, avoiding the sinuous, slippery roots that crawled across the path, not daring to put my foot down in the piles of leaves for fear of hidden snakes, trusting only hard-packed dirt and the flattest, most stable rocks to support my steps. As you might imagine, such caution resulted in a very slow and effort-full journey.

It wasn’t long, though, before I started wondering why the Costa Ricans kept blasting past me, with an amused look on their faces as they glanced back. They were going at least twice as fast as I was – and they were wearing flip flops. I started to observe, and to ponder my observations. Then I realized what was different for them:

They never expected any step to be solid.

All they required from each footfall was just enough to get the next foot down, and the next, and the next. Sure, the root was slippery, the mud jelly, the stone wobbly, but if you were only going to land on it for a second, it didn’t matter.

Whereas I had been looking for each footfall to be firm enough to rely upon, to support my entire weight, all the Costa Ricans asked of each landing was to be just enough to keep moving.

I started to consciously walk the way they did. I would fall in behind someone who passed me and watch where they placed their feet, trying to match their quickness of release from one footfall to the next, to relax and let my body lope along with the momentum. I even stopped tightening my Tevas – the looser they were, the better. If they were tight on my feet and I caught the toe on something, it would cause my whole body to lose balance. If they were loose, the Teva could absorb the jolt, allowing my body to stay in motion.

Soon the bemused look on the Costa Rican’s faces turned to genuine smiles as they started to recognize someone who was adopting their way of being. The typical “Hola” given to tourists was exchanged for the “Todo bien?” they reserve for friends.

So when David surprised me with his invitation to return to Costa Rica and share a life with him, I told myself “This is the next stone in the stream. Yes, it’s small and wet and wobbly. But all you need it to be is enough to get the next foot down, then the next and the next. Maybe those footfalls will join into a lifetime.” So I took a chance. Placed my foot on the love we felt for each other and stepped into the stream.

When the complications arose, I was dismayed, disoriented, unbalanced, and grasped for assurances from David that he was unable to give.

As I swung in the hammock attempting to decide whether I would stay in Costa Rica and try to make the best of an unhappy situation, or to come back to the States, I realized why I was having such difficulty. I had forgotten the lesson.

I wanted the stone upon which I had placed my foot to be big, and flat, and stable. It turned out not to be. I was about to fall, and everywhere I looked there was no secure next place to put my foot. All I could see was water – the water of the humiliation of having to explain to family and friends, the professional embarrassment of having to give up my conservation work, the personal anxiety of facing an uncertain future.

Then I remembered another thing I learned walking the trails of Costa Rica: sometimes the next stone in the stream is actually under the water. So I told David the truth: that I loved him, that I understood the conflicts that were causing him distress, but that it wasn’t OK to treat me the way he had been treating me, so I was returning to the States.

I stepped off of the wobbly stone into the water and onto a plane home.

I am soaked, and soggy, and very, very sad. I wouldn’t trade the love and fulfilment that I felt those first four days for all the riches in the world, but I don’t regret my decision. If I have learned anything at all over these past two years of pain and growth, it is that there is always, always, a next stone in the stream.

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