The air was cold on my bare thighs as I walked towards the barn, cursing our mischievous paint gelding Little One, who had once again found a way to wiggle through the fence and out to the greener grass of freedom. A watchful neighbor had stopped to tell us that our horse was out, and after thanking him for taking the time to stop (though most everyone in this little town would do the same) I quickly pulled my boots and Carhartt on over my flannel pajamas and set off down the gravel path. Reaching the barn, I hastily dumped a scoop of grain into a feed pan, and with a quick shake, Little One came trotting down the driveway and nearly bowled me over trying to get breakfast. In less than five minutes he was back in the paddock with his pasture-mate, Madera, but my project had only just begun—I still had to figure out where the little devil had made his escape.
It had frosted heavily the night before and the grass was white and crunchy under my boots. The incisions dotting my belly pulled and ached as I gingerly walked the fence line, still struggling to stand up straight and feeling frustrated at my own frailty. My parents were out of town, having made careful provisions to have others tend the barn while I recouped. I had at least twenty different people I could have called to come help, but there is something shameful about having your fence fail. Fixing it is a private penance.
And so, I walked the fence line, stooping periodically to adjust particularly vulnerable sections. Satisfied that the horses were adequately contained for the moment, I went inside to pull my loosest jeans on over my bloated and tender abdomen. Beltless but warmer, I walked slowly back out to the field, this time with Leatherman, wrench, and wire in hand. It took the next hour and nearly all of my energy to fully tune, tighten, and adjust the fence, but when I was done, the wire streaked across the now thawing grass in neat lines. I looked over our property, stunningly beautiful at the dawn of a perfect October day, and felt grateful to be home.
This October sabbatical, as I am calling it, is not what I would have chosen. At twenty-four, I have a beautiful life in a city just two hours up the coast of Lake Erie, and that life is just starting to feel cohesive, and pleasant, and comfortable after three years of anxiously reaching roots into unknown and sometimes frosty soil. At the pinnacle of what feels like the prime of my twenties, the last thing I wanted to do was run away to my parents basement for six weeks. And yet, I didn’t get to choose. We often don’t.
Multiple diagnoses, each mandating pilgrimages to specialists in Cleveland, led up to a surgery that we hoped would ease my pain. And while that surgery moved my body towards fuller functioning, mending bodies isn’t quite as easy as mending fences. The journey continues, and as it does, I am releasing my chokehold on linear answers and submitting myself to the winding path.
Six months ago I wrote about “Losing My Life,” and this health journey has me more committed to that idea than ever. The failing of our bodies makes our ultimate lack of control frighteningly close—illness forces us, quite literally, to dwell within our own lack of power. What I have discovered in the last few months, is that by admitting our stunning lack of control, we create a paradoxical opportunity to make stronger commitments to the parts of our lives over which God gives us autonomy.
David Brooks unpacks this idea further and with laudable clarity in his book The Second Mountain, where he suggests that there are “four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community.” These commitments, however, can only be made when we are willing to stop chasing for just a moment while we patiently and humbly observe what our life actually is. There were days in the last few months where I would have liked to be apple picking, but I was sitting in a waiting room instead. I could have cursed the failure of my body to allow me that choice, but I have found it far more meaningful to use that energy to commit wholeheartedly to my reality as it is rather than bemoaning what I wish it would be. This doesn’t mean that we stop striving or reaching—just the opposite. Choosing to live in humble surrender to the realities of our one unique life provides maximum opportunity for effort and impact because we are comfortable accepting the reality of what we can actually do: not picking apples, but certainly being kind to the nurse trying to start my IV.
While I didn’t particularly want to spend my fall between hospitals and my parents’ house, this idea helped me to live my time there with maximum purpose. I spent my time with God saying, “I’m here, so what would you have me do with this season?” Eventually, I found myself looking beyond the fence less and less and loving the ground beneath my feet more and more.
“God places his saints where they will bring Him the most glory, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.” – Oswald Chambers
Ansley Kelly (‘16) is a Department Manager at Wegmans in Buffalo, New York. She is passionate about her work as a leader and often describes her job as “creating environments for talented people to be successful.” In the summer you can find her training as the bowperson on a competitive sailing team, and in the winter she volunteers as a member of the National Ski Patrol. After both of those activities you can find her sipping bourbon (neat, of course) and working on puzzles.