Personal growth isn’t always a pretty process for me. Nope. I’m gonna reach back several decades anyway though and share a messy – but marvelous – teachable moment from a visit to Scotland!
Okay so back at the end of my college days, I was lucky to get to spend a summer backpacking around Europe – with Britain as the finale of the trip!
Nothing could have spoiled such a grand adventure, but I do remember feeling out of sorts at times. Having been on the go close to two months by then, maybe the crazy “If this is Tuesday” pace had worn down even a youthful version of myself. Perhaps a few too many nights of sleeping-but-not-really-sleeping on the decks of ships and in crowded youth hostel rooms? I mean yeah, it was all wonderfully romantic! It just wasn’t super restful, you know?
I’m betting though that the crankiness was over the fact that my adventure was coming to an end and I’d soon have to switch from choosing which ancient wonder I’d take in to (gulp…) choosing a career path.
And I never did find a “Let’s Go” book for that.
Even so, I was especially looking forward to this last part of the trip as it was my first chance to get in touch with the Scottish roots of my family tree! To honor Dad’s great, great grandmother Hannah Gunn, my folks had visited the Clan Gunn Museum in Latheron where they learned and shared with me stuff like the Gunn Clan Motto, Aut Pax Aut Bellum, which means: “Either Peace or War.” I kinda love that because it seems like whatever was going on around them, the Gunns were pretty much up for it!
So while my friend Sophia and I watched the scenery whizzing past from our bullet train between London and Edinburgh, I was getting excited to see if I’d feel a connection to Scotland! But since our b&b wasn’t as close to the station as we’d hoped – and since trudging around with a backpack on my shoulders made it somewhat impossible to look upward – my first impressions were only of several miles’ worth of Scottish pavement.
Which put me in one of those cranky moods.
I felt better after just a brief rest though – and Sophia and I ventured out for a pack-free summer’s evening stroll around Holyrood Park!
We hiked across green fields and up craggy, volcanic terrain to Arthur’s Seat where we enjoyed a sweet panorama of the city that we planned to conquer the next day!
First on our list was the imposing Edinburgh Castle which sits on top of another volcano-made hill. There we got to tour all sorts of historic spots like the room where King James VI was born. And it was really moving to wander around a marvelous building set up as a monument to Scots who died in wars.
Our amusing tour guide never passed up a chance to crow about his native Scotland while also taking potshots at just about every other nationality represented in our group. Like he pointed out that the Scottish lion on their banners (with the motto In Defens – short for In My Defens God Me Defend) stands up on his hind legs ready for action while England’s lion is just sitting around!
After our lesson in history and heraldry, Sophia and I took a train about 70 miles north to the charming town of Pitlochry!
(I made a journal note about a rail worker who cruised the aisles cheerily offering coffee. After getting a taker, he switched to asking: “Any more victims?” I didn’t partake since experience has taught me not to drink anything on trips where there isn’t what I’d judge to be a proper bathroom nearby – but I clearly appreciated the humor!)
On our arrival, Sophia announced she wanted to eat and shop. Fair enough. But figuring I may never pass this way again, I wasn’t about to pass on the chance to explore the countryside! So I took off alone – just me and my own thoughts.
Which made me cranky again…
I set a pretty angry pace through town and out onto kind of an open, marshy stretch of land, getting more wound up as I went over how I’d soon have to go home and sort out my future. It didn’t help my mood that I had to mince along over ground that was all wet and covered with muddy reeds – and I started muttering that with my luck, it would start raining.
Sure enough. As I scrambled along the trail up a local mountain called Ben Vrackie, I started to hear water droplets pitter-pattering on my jacket.
Well that’s just perfect! Here I am trying to get clarity in my life and instead I’m getting fog and rain!
As the trail ahead of me all but disappeared, I finally stopped, figuring it was my cue to head back down the mountain. I spared a look or two along the way at the lush, green countryside that was becoming blanketed in a thickening mist. And as annoyed as I was at that moment over everything and nothing, I did have to own: it was absolutely magical here…
While making my way carefully back down the mountainside and out onto the flat again, I continued to take in and, in spite of myself – enjoy – the scenery around me. Right up until I slipped on a patch of marsh and – whop! – landed right on my backside in the muck…
This was no little slip either. It was a full on feet-suddenly-where-my-head-had-been pratfall!
I’d saved my camera, so I had that going for me. And in truth, the vegetation and gunk below had made a fairly soft landing pad. But my whole back and left side were now muddy and soaked – and there was a 70 mile train ride between me and a change of clothes.
In a bit of shock, I found myself trying to work out how to react – like toddlers do when they fall down and then try to read the room to see if they’re expected to giggle or burst into tears.
But there was no one around.
Well, first I grudgingly figured there was no sense crying over spilt milk or, in this case – spilt me. Getting angry wasn’t going to fix things. And I got to thinking too that spoiling my time out here with worries over a career I couldn’t do anything about at the moment anyway wasn’t a smart option either.
I started brushing some of the muck off my clothes – and I recognized it was kind of too bad no one had witnessed my epic fall. From the displays of good humor I’d seen on my Scottish visit so far, I bet anyone who did would have enjoyed quite a chuckle! And maybe even my slapstick silent film idol Buster Keaton would have been proud!
And I started to laugh.
I understand there’s a Jewish proverb that says: As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.
I ended up needing both soap and a sense of humor that day in Scotland (a hot meal and a glass of local whisky didn’t hurt either!). But hey – that soap and laughter saying could work as a motto on my very own banner for carrying into life’s inevitable battles!
Well, either that or maybe: Watching Where Go My Feet…