8th Bell: Goodbye

There comes a time in any story when you turn the final page and eight bells toll. It is the end of the watch, the final memoriam before committing a story to the deep. This post is, figuratively speaking, the eighth bell for Thousand Mile Walk. The closure of this chapter for our blog remains bittersweet—sad for some and a relief for others, as we look to new horizons and different adventures. But before we say goodbye, we thought it fitting to look back over the pages that have preceded this one before closing the book and putting it on the shelf—at least for now.

Concept to conclusion

When we set sail eight years ago on this journey, we did so with the goal of getting better at writing…by writing!! One author even had the brazenness to mention Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel as we set to sea that first fateful Tuesday, the first of 441 Tuesdays on which we would post every week without fail (plus the handful of additional days when we were feeling ambitious).

All hyperbolic references to great artists aside, the blog has served its purpose well, providing a home to a sundry six authors and one guest author over the course of the voyage, and enabling a structured schedule for them to write within. Because of this, Thousand Mile Walk is now home to 473 posts across its life of 8+ years. And thanks to some unusually successful evergreen posts, we even broke our viewership record that was set in 2016 just last month, making 2021 our biggest year of viewers to date.

When we started out in April of 2013, the idea that the experiment would grow this vast, or last this long, did not even enter our minds (or at least not my own). The rotating schedule among a group of authors provided structure and a consistent flow of content, even as individuals would withdraw from the blog due to changing interests and life circumstances—moving, getting married, having children.

Which brings us to the present. We are no longer the high-school or college students we were when this all began, and what we aspired to then and focused our time on are not the same things as they are now. This blog provided a platform for honing our writing skills and motivated us to try new genres and ideas that we would never have written about without it. But even as we have grown as writers, we have grown in other ways and are ready for new, different pursuits.

In light of this, we have determined collectively that the time has come to take Thousand Mile Walk into harbor, at least for now.


To those who have followed us on this voyage, we say thank you.

To those only just now discovering us, we hope you enjoy what you find in the pages below.

To all, we say bon voyage.

A Story of Hands—Chapter Fifteen: The Beginning

“You know what I’m thinking of, Richard?”

“I must admit that I haven’t the faintest clue, despite your implications that I am a mind reader.”

She ignored his sarcasm and powered forward.

“Of Alford.  I was thinking of him.  You remember, Henry Alford, that poet you gave me a book by once?”

“Mmm.  It’s been a while, but I think I remember.  We found him in a hymnal first, right?”

“Yes, you’re right, we did—when we were flipping through the hymnal trying out new songs after evening service one time.  Anyway, what was I saying?”  She paused, then found her thought again.

“He always had the nicest things to say about hands and life and love.  He had an old soul, even from the start, I think.  He knew what it was like to grow old with someone you love, to long for a hand to hold.”

“So that’s what you’re really thinking about?” Richard leaned over from his chair by her bedside and placed her nearest hand in his warm, worn palm.  The two were similar in age, but one was delicate and the other large and calloused, still strong even now.  She had always marveled at the difference in size over the years, holding them palm to palm to show exactly how much his fingers extended beyond her own.

Holding hands brought back so many memories, from the first time they walked hand in hand at school to their wedding day when they joined hands, then clasped again and again over the years that followed.  That first time was just the beginning, starting them on the path that had led them to now.

“That’s better, yes.”  She interrupted Richard’s thoughts, her one-track mind not detoured like his.  “But I was actually thinking about the poetry too.  One of my favorite poems had lines that went something like, ‘My hand is lonely for your clasping, dear…I want your strength to help, your laugh to cheer.’  I always thought that was perfect.  It was all about ‘you and I’ and belonging together, like any good love poem, but the lonely hand and the cheering laugh—I liked that part especially.”

“Hmm.  I like that one too, but the hymn is the one I thought of first.  It has glimmers of Tennyson or Keates, which I can’t say happens often in hymns—they’re usually too down-to-earth, although not literally, of course.”

“How does it go—?”  He paused, contemplating.

She began humming softly.

Gradually, they gathered the tune together and then strung it with the words—one picking up what the other forgot.

“I know not if or dark—”

“Or bright—”

“Shall be my lot.  If that wherein my hopes delight be best or not.  It may be mine to drag for years toil’s heavy chain—”

She smiled as they sang this line, lifting her unoccupied hand as if fighting the weight of the IV that dangled from it.

“Or day and night my something, something bed of pain.  Dear faces may surround my health with smiles and glee, or I may dwell alone, and something, something, something.”  They both laughed as they blanked on the words at the same spots.

“My bark is wafted to the strand by breath divine, and on its helm there rests a hand other than mine.”

Richard squeezed her hand gently, “A better hand than this.”

“—One who was known in storms to sail I have on board; above the roaring of the gale I hear my Lord.  Safe to the land! safe to the land! The end is this—”

“And then with Him go hand in hand, far into bliss.”

The song quavered to an end, and they both laughed a little self-consciously.

“Imagine if this place were bold enough to advertise ‘bliss begins here’ on the sign!” she laughed.

“That would be quite remarkable,” Richard agreed with a chuckle.

A knock sounded on the door, and they both glanced at the clock across the room.

“Looks like it’s time for drugs and supper for you, dear.”

The nurse backed into the room a moment later, pulling her cart.

“Indeed.  Or as Alford would say, ‘Life is so short, so fast the lone hours fly.”

“I take offense at that.  Lone hours, indeed!”

“I believe in staying true to the quote.”

“Well, I don’t, and ‘I’m glad we are together, you and I,’” Richard finished, “So, there.”

“That’s not how it goes, silly.”

“Adaptation is the truest form of flattery,” Richard parried.

“That’s not how that goes either,” she shot back, swatting at his hand as he withdrew out of reach with a chuckle.

…And with that, dear reader, we have reached the beginning.

No, I am not going to conclude with everything coming full circle, even though there is a sense in which that happens in every life where old age meets infancy and holds its hand, then supports and catches and comforts and guides and bids goodbye as infancy grows into childhood, youth, adulthood, and then a new old age.

Nor am I going to end with tears and a grave, although that is a part of this journey.

No, this is a better beginning than that.  This is the poignant beginning with which so many of the best stories end, the end that is but a turning page, not a closing cover.  For hidden behind every living-happily-ever-after-to-the-end-of-their-days is a new story, the story of growing old and then of what comes next.  The beginning that follows the end of what came before.

A veil that we cannot lift until we reach it.  A glass that is dark until its time.  The beyond the shores of what we have known.  A river, an ocean, a door, a climb, a boat ride, a veil, a mirror.  The great divide that we cannot describe or measure, but which we contemplate and envision and try to explain or grasp in so many forms.

All roads lead here, to the answer to the mystery upon which we muse.  For some it is a place of darkness and fear, and rightly so.  But for us, let it be a place of light and joy, let the day of its discovery be the greatest of our lives, for that is how it should be, as strange as that may sound and seem.

Fear not.  Sting not.  Sorrow not.  For the victory is His and through Him yours.  Reach out boldly, for the Kingdom is at hand.

Let us begin the real adventure.  You have taken my hand on this journey till now, but I can only lead you to the door, the shore, the clouded mirror.  I can take you no further till I go myself.  But look, here is what the threshold says:

Not, happily ever after or to the end of their days, but one day after a lifetime, in a Kingdom far away…

And so the real adventure is at hand at last.

I have prayed for thee

There is a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring that has always been appealing to me: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens”. My appreciation is in the truth of the sentiment – those who are unwilling to walk the road with their friends when the way becomes painful and hard, are no companions at all.

Luke 22 presents us with foreshadowing of this very scenario: all of Jesus’ companions will flee from him, and his own friends will deny ever knowing him. The one and eternal King, the one above whom none ever deserved more loyalty and honor, will be abandoned by all. Yet, after telling Peter of his future betrayal, Jesus says the most amazing thing: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”. God incarnate is praying for Peter KNOWING that he will deny him. As the story unfolds, we see that although everyone does indeed abandon Christ, he does not abandon His own. Though every disciple fled, though Peter denied and cursed, yet none of the eleven was abandoned to the fate they deserved. The subsequent pages show repentance, and a love and forgiveness given to sinful men that drove them to the ends of the earth proclaiming good news.

So the question is, where are we looking for good news? Is it to ourselves – our own wisdom, strength, finances, or relationships to lift the burden of brokenness and guilt? Is it others, government, the world? All these things are transient, slowly but surely passing away. May we be like the blind men at Jericho who, when they heard Jesus was coming, would not cease to cry out his name until he answered them (Matt. 20:29-34). For the unbeliever, cry out for faith; for the Christian, cry out “help my unbelief”. He is compassionate to those who call upon His name. He knows our failings from before the forming of the world, but his blood is sufficient to cover all our transgressions (Hebrews 10), and even now He intercedes for his own (Romans 8:34) just as he interceded for Peter.

Hello from Boston

The following is a spring snapshot of Boston from a trip I took earlier this year. This type of post was a first for me, being entirely written on my phone while riding a whale-watching boat.

The sea is calm, skies cloudy, and there’s a cheerful chatter of Spanish and English aboard the Asteria as we return to Boston harbor. We spotted fin, humpback, and minke whales, as well as grey seals and numerous seagulls—and other adventure-seeking whale watching boats that mirrored ours with their crowded three tiers of deck and double-prowed catamaran profiles.

Boston streets are abloom with rhododendron, allium, and roses, which bely the chilly temperatures that have not topped the mid-50s until today, despite being in the 80s not that long ago. The birds sing almost incessantly from dawn to dusk, and the Canadian geese stand stiff and vigilant next to gangly goslings along the banks of the Charles.

A Story of Hands—Chapter Fourteen: Letting Go

Grabbing, inquisitive little digits balled up in fists around my finger or waving in convulsive dances in the air.  Seizing, then letting go.  Engulfed in a pair of giant hands, smothered in kisses.  Carefully disentangled from a lock of hair or pulled away from a slobbery mouth.

Held out, fingers wiggling in invitation.  Being grasped, swung from, tugged on.  Holding hands to cross the street, wrapped in a tight hug, swung onto broad shoulders with ankles firmly held while little hands wave or clutch in a teetering moment of uncertainty.  Grasping the bike seat from behind, running, pushing, releasing.

Opening a door.  Saying a prayer.  Turning a page, closing the story.  Playing a game.  Giving a hug.  Greeting a stranger.  Passing the food.  Quenching summer thirst.  Flapping wildly in the water.  Tickling a squirming, giggling escapee.  Grabbing a backpack weighted with books.  Plucking a string, playing a note.  Icing a cake.  Spraying a water hose.  Holding a door open.  Waving goodbye to the first one, then the next, then the last.  Throwing a tasseled cap high.  Giving and receiving a ring.  Holding a soft, tiny, squirming bundle, then handing it to another pair of eager hands.

Holding an arm or an elbow as you walk side by side.  Then, a quiet hand.  Picking out flowers and driving to a familiar place, arranging them with care, year after year.

Holding things for the first time, or for the millionth.  Hellos and goodbyes.

Again, and again, grasping and letting go.

Macarons are for Worriers

Are you, dear reader, one of those people
Whose thoughts spin a bit too much?
Whose wheel of worry is never stilled,
Blown by what-ifs, I-should-haves, and such?

If so, I have just the solution for you
That’ll make other worries hurry on,
For there is no room for worldly cares
When you’re making macarons.

This little almond cookie, that delicate crunch,
With egg whites beaten to a crescendo,
Will always find new and inventive ways
To not turn out like the photo.

Are your macarons too wet, or are they too dry?
Do or do not they have feet (they should)?
Did they turn out hollow, sticky or cracked?
There’s a hundred reasons why they would.

Was your oven too hot, or was it too cold?
Was your batter to wet, were the shells not dried?
Will the base be too flat, or be too tall?
You’ll never know until you’ve tried.

So worry away, full well knowing
That in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Your husband will still eat the result
Whether you over (or under) mixed batter.

Gate Building

“Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel.”

Nehemiah 3:1

Over the past few weeks, my father-in-law and I built a gate and set its doors. On paper, the project was a simple one: a 12 foot span to be gated with a double-doored picket fence.

Beginning with a hand-drawn sketch on graph paper, we planned out a set of double gates that would drop towards the center, with a cross-piece to help support the inside of the gates and keep them from sagging. One trip to the lumber supplier later, we had identified 8 2x4s (deceptively NOT actually 2” by 4” but instead 1.5” by 3.5”) and 16 1×3 boards. Meticulously sorting through the lumber pile at the store, we tried to identify boards that were both un-warped and un-knotted.

Having made these selections and purchased primer and gate hardware, we set about our work, beginning with the frame of the gates. A few measurements, angled cuts, and lag bolts later, we had constructed the frames for the gates. It was the evening of the first day.

The next day, with the two gates leaned up against the garage, we afixed pieces of scrap wood above the frames, draped a string from nails on the scraps so as to create a curved line for the tops of the picket fence panels. After a bit of deliberation, we discovered that the curve would not work with the shape of the frame underneath it: the spearhead tips of the panels halfway along each door would dip too low.

Nixing the curve, we went from a parabolic to a linear equation to solve this problem. The math was simpler: a 4.5’ tall panel on the outside, dipping to a 3.5’ tall panel at the inside. Lots of measuring, pencil scratches, head scratches, double-checking, and finally cutting ensued. With the help of a chop saw and jig with a drill, the spearheads of the panels proved easy to shape. It was nearing evening of the second day. To ward off splinters and make the primer stick better to the panels, we began sanding the boards off one by one. 22 boards for the gates, plus 25 for some additional fencing around the gate.

On the afternoon of the third day, we finally started to see the end of our labor. Painting and nailing the panels to the frame, the two gates felt very sturdy. When the nail gun lost pressure and stopped working, we moved to driving nails the old-fashioned way. The gates were almost done. We had only to hang them, a task we left for another weekend.

This weekend project, conducted in the steamy heat of a Louisiana summer, put me in mind of the chapter in Nehemiah that describes the various Israelite households who rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. I have sometimes wondered about the purpose of genealogies and lists in Scripture, but after a weekend of toil building a 12 foot gate, I have to wonder:

Could it be that in recording their names, God is recognizing these builders for their courage and toil? Eliashib must have planned, measured, cut, and framed. He worked, no doubt, with more rudimentary instruments than the electric and pneumatic machinery we benefit from today, and without easy access to a lumber store. He also worked under the threat of retribution from Sanballat and Tobiah. Toilsome work, but also, noble and courageous, and worthy of mention in holy Scripture.