Don’t Be Afraid Of The Journey

photo 8Quiet time is hard to find.

So when a client canceled an appointment a few afternoons ago, I decided to drive to a local hill and get in a short, solitary hike.

Mt. Pisgah is situated a few miles south of Eugene, Oregon.  It rises over a thousand feet above the surrounding Willamette Valley, and offers a variety of hiking trails.  The trail I chose was on the west side, a less visited area with a rutted gravel path that rises gradually as it meanders along a grass-covered savannah with a steep pitch near the summit.

In early Spring the sun is bright, with a nip in the air.  It is not uncommon to walk this section of Pisgah and never see another soul.

After hiking a good half hour solo, I spotted two people coming down the path toward me.  I sized them up as two 20-something men.  I thought it odd that the larger of the two had his shirt off on this still chilly day.  As they approached they began photo 19whispering back and forth, raising an alarm bell in my head.  Why were they not greeting me with a nod or a waive?  Instead, they seemed to be coordinating some last minute strategy before they reached me.

I noticed the big man without a shirt suddenly looked up and fixed his gaze on me.  While he was half-smiling, there was still no greeting.

By this time all of my alarms were going off.  In fact, the alarms had now turned into blaring sirens as I came alongside them and noticed the smiley-faced man drift back across his friend and photo 17raise his arm to strike.  I reacted, countering with my own arm, knocking his away.  I ducked, pivoted and ran, putting a good twenty feet between us before glancing back.  When I saw they had stopped walking, I halted and studied the situation.  The smaller of the two stood scolding the man without the shirt, asking, “Kenneth, what are you doing?”  He called out to me, “Don’t worry, he’s harmless!  He’s autistic!”

Still, I gave them a wide berth, and as I continued my climb, the truth began to sink in, even as the adrenalin continued flowing through my bloodstream.  How could I react this way?  I should know better!  I work with individuals with disabilities every day!  I was never in danger.  The big man just wanted to give me a hug.  Instead of recognizing the situation for what it was, I chose to react out of fear, scampering away.

photo 12Years ago, after beginning to work with people with  disabilities, I noticed something disconcerting, not from the people  with whom I worked, but from others.  When walking in public with my clients, strangers walking towards us would look away as we passed.  At the time I wondered if I had ever done that, avoided making eye contact, or any contact at all, with a person who had a disability.  Having worked with them, now, my sensibilities had changed, which made my reaction to Kenneth all the more disappointing.


photo 16Sheryl and I are taking this journey to simplify our lives together.  We feel “safe” because we can discuss our fears and work through them.  We are able to keep heading up our Mt. Pisgah, not fearful, but excited for what we will encounter along the way, because together we are able to sort “reality” from the shadows.  It would be our hope that we are able to reach out to others who struggle at times, just like we do.

If you find yourself on a journey alone, we urge you to seek like-minded people with whom to share the burden.

Please share your journey with others, as we share our journey with you.

                                            We are never truly alone, only unaware.

After returning to the parking area of the head trail, I searched for Kenneth and the man walking with him, but I was too late to shake his hand and assure him I was no longer afraid.


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