The break in the weather should not come as a surprise, yet it does. Every year I forget there will be a January thaw. Today, for the first time in weeks, I move from intention to action. The labyrinth walk I have meant to do since the New Year happens today.
Luck is on my side. There is a parking space in the visitors’ lot inside the main entrance to Bryn Mawr College. I follow the winding path that leads to the McBride Gateway and then pass in front of the library. Along the way, I gather up snippets of student conversations. “Another version of myself,” one young woman says to another. Closer to the library steps, three young men are deep in what might be a theological conversation. “Is it a Mary thing?” one asks. I am eager to hear the response, but their long strides take them out of range too quickly. I move on, thinking the answer must be Yes.
The labyrinth is on a slope just west of the library, flanked by several towering copper beeches. Even in winter, they have earned their titles. Queen of the Forest, Mother of the Woods. The sweeping low branches require me to bend deep. My mind whispers, Your Majesty, as I pass.
At the entrance to the labyrinth, I pause to collect my thoughts. Canada geese fly up out of the pond in the middle distance and land on an empty playing field. At my first step, a grade school choir sings within me. Father, I put my life in your hands. Until this moment, I did not realize I was here to pray. The path begins in the middle of a circuit and twists back and forth and away to the edge. The dark mulch of summer is silver now and uneven. There is little give in the ground, despite the rain earlier in the week. A familiar impatience returns as I wind my way forward. The arcs shorten, but the center remains too long out of reach.
The first time I walked a labyrinth must have been at least a dozen years ago. An irregular heart beat had put me in the hospital overnight. The discharge orders were simple–get more sleep, eliminate caffeine, reduce stress–but compliance seemed impossible. I was a forty-something woman trying to build a private practice after nearly a decade as a public interest lawyer and I was raising a son with multiple learning differences who struggled every day. The competing demands of my child and my clients tore me apart. I had recently failed at my first attempt at meditation. After falling asleep in every class, the instructor said I wasn’t ready to be present. I decided to give moving meditation a try. But even walking on a canvas labyrinth in a church hall tried my patience. I struggled to stay on the path.
Afterwards I bolted outside. The February day was raw and windswept, but pent up energy propelled me across the church grounds. An image of a scale began to form in my mind. I saw myself grasping the rim of one of the pans as it swayed wildly while my worries piled up on the other side. I wanted only to escape, but how? As I stalked across the grass, my mental picture began to shift. I saw myself crawling up the chain that held the pan and inching across the arm until I reached the center. I became the fulcrum of the scale, no longer moved by the events that set the pans swaying. The changes I needed to make began in earnest that afternoon.
Back in the present, I reach the middle of the Bryn Mawr labyrinth, where there is a bench. I sit for a while and listen to the geese honking and the distant hum of traffic on Montgomery Avenue. Even when you get to the heart of the matter, you cannot stay. The labyrinth, like life, flings you from the center to the farthest limits. On my way back, I stumble on the turf at the outer edge. My first thought is I don’t have to stay. I can leave right now. I am about to step off the path when I hear a bell. I count as I walk. By the twelfth tolling, I have finished the labyrinth, steadier and ready for what comes next.