This summer, I experienced a very educational first – the only time I have ever been rained out of a backpacking trip. While I have been on a few drizzly trips, never before have I been soaked to the skin in my rain gear, sloshing around with puddles in my boots. I had never dug trenches in the mud to save our tents from flooding. Even for those of us who had excellent raingear (unfortunately, I was not included in this intelligent subgroup), we woke up to find everything still soaked through, with more rain in the forecast.
Though we had an incredible hike planned for our second day of the trip, we made the decision to trek down through the fog and drive home a day early. Thankfully, our group of five women was fairly united in both our enjoyment of the rainy adventure up to that point, as well as our readiness to return home. It would have made for a much more difficult experience if some of us felt strongly about staying while the others were suffering.
In life, there are some adventures we set out on together, but our paths diverge or levels of enthusiasm change. Many of my friends and family members have shared religious views with me in the past, which we no longer have in common. It can certainly make things easier in relationships when we are on the same page. We have immense opportunities for growth when we are not.
My journey of faith has not always been easy — in my youth, I transitioned from one religion to another amidst emotional storms, without all the developmental “gear” needed to maintain relationships in a positive way. As I have grown, I have acquired more tools, healed relationships, and faced the next mountains and valleys with more clarity. Sometimes, when those along the journey leave our shared path, the symbolic pack I carry up the mountain feels very heavy.
On that eventful backpacking trip, after our night of thunder and heavy rain, we discussed some reasons to stay. We had been looking forward to the vistas and lakes several miles up the trail – had planned to eat our lunches sitting on white granite slabs, appreciating the beauty of the cold clear water, the scurrying wildlife, and hard-earned views of alpine wildflowers. Though much of the day might be impacted by thunderstorms, those were some compelling reasons to consider staying.
When we choose to stay on a path which others have left, we might feel able to validate and recognize the reasons they left the path. We may hurt for them or experience the same pain ourselves. And sometimes we stay anyway. We may stay even though we don’t trust some of our fellow hikers, or sustained an injury or feel the map isn’t completely accurate. We may stay even if the vistas have lost their novelty, the air has grown cold and the bright flowers have died for a season.
Just as a significant portion of the population has no interest in backpacking, some see participation in organized religion as undesirable. Others may enjoy it for a time, and then choose to camp instead at campgrounds or in an RV. Others may never return to the woods. We all choose the way we engage with religion throughout life, and what that looks like in our childhood might carry through our whole lives or undergo a dozen transformations along the way.
No matter which path we choose, I have found it is always healthiest to trust that individuals in your life are doing the best they can within the space they have chosen, even if you have left that space yourself. If we love the adventure we are on, we can invite others to join us, and we can build community with those we meet on the trail. We can also work to rebuild the broken bridges, remove fallen trees and obstacles from the path and clear the trash left behind by careless individuals. Even when we are confident that our chosen trail leads to the higher power we have faith in, we all must remember something. These paths are built, maintained, and populated by imperfect and overwhelmed — yet, beautiful — humans.
Palmer is a mother of four and a doctoral student at the University of Idaho. She has been finding her path on the Palouse since 2012. Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.