It was barely dawn and I was headed to the lake. Bitter morning air slapped my cheeks and I pressed my mittened hands to my face. Maybe I should go back inside. I could take a hot shower, bundle up with a blanket and a good book. But I knew where that would lead: sleepy eyes and afternoon guilt. Meanwhile, out there in nature, braving the elements—who knew what I’d find?
The lake was half-frozen and covered with a fresh layer of snow. The ducks and geese were still asleep, floating like stones on a melted section of the lake, wings and heads pulled into their bodies. I passed the park ranger’s station and spotted the silhouette of a dog out on the water. Its profile was dark against the morning sky, skinny legs bent like broken toothpicks. It was so motionless, I assumed it had to be one of the dog decoys intended to deter the geese. Someone must have moved one onto the lake as a prank.
I walked closer and the silhouette turned its head. It wasn’t a dog decoy, but a mangy coyote. How long had it been stranded out there, frozen with fear? It stood at a spot where the thin ice had melted, gazing down at the dark water in front of it. A desperate urge rose up in me. I needed to help it somehow!
I approached the shore and realized it wasn’t stranded after all. If it would just turn around, it would see that the lake behind it was still frozen. There were plenty of routes to safety. But it stood motionless, entranced in its own fear, staring at the water, waiting for something unchangeable to change. I stared into the animal’s eyes and sent it a silent message. Turn around. Find a new path. You will be okay.
Finally, the coyote moved. It shook itself, as if awakening from a stupefied slumber. It paced the edge of the melted ice, leaving footprints on the fresh snow. I pointed to the south side of the lake, where the ice was still frozen. “Go that way!” I called. Trance broken, it turned away from the dark water. It took a tentative step onto the ice behind it, then another. It wasn’t free yet—the ice could still break at any moment—but it had found room to move, space to explore. Somehow, I sensed that it had heard me, and that it had a message for me too.
In this time of quarantine, how many of us feel stuck like the coyote? I wish that my footing could feel as sure as it once did, but the path I knew is gone. Our familiar world melted away before our eyes. None of us know where this will lead or how it will end, and sitting in that knowledge is the hardest act of all. When we stop moving, we come face to face with what’s left in the stillness. When everything is lost, what do we find?
Some days, I can’t help but feel paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I scroll through the news, see the sadness on our boys’ faces, lay in bed full of anxiety about what the future holds. I gaze at what’s been lost and wish things were different, that life could feel as easy and certain as it did once upon a time. I look at my pre-pandemic pictures and hardly recognize the woman I see there. A year has passed, but the long, empty, worrisome days have left their mark.
Now that the vaccine is here, the urgency for all this to end heightens. At least that’s how I feel. I want to fast forward to better days. Days when I can look back at what we survived, shake my head in awe and say, “Remember when…?” I want to travel the world, hug friends and family with abandon, gather and celebrate the fact that we lived through what feels on many days like an impossible dream. But the path isn’t there yet. And even in those optimistic moments, I can’t help but wonder who we’ll be then, and what world we’ll be walking back into. Will we continue to follow the same path, or find the courage to forge a new one?
The image of that coyote floats back to me so often—especially on the days when I feel stuck in fear and worry. The look in its eyes mirrored what I feel in those darkest moments: lost, scared, stuck, alone. And yet, we’re not alone, and we’re not stuck. None of us. Even if I can’t see the path forward now, my faith tells me there is one. We can learn from nature. The way it morphs and changes, always presenting something new. The way the animals trust themselves to adapt to the elements and find their way.
I lift my eyes from the shadowy water, look up at the sky. A flock of geese soars toward the mountains, squawking to each other in their mysterious language. In the distance, I hear friendly voices cheering me on, reminding me it will be okay. I turn away from the lake and take a single, shaky step. And trust that my feet will find their way back to freedom.