Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.
This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.
Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.
About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.
And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.
And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.