When my son was only three or four years old, we began playing catch in the backyard. Many an afternoon, through his days of T-ball and later Little League, we would toss a baseball back and forth until dusk. He went through a phase where he wanted me to throw high flies and then another where he preferred grounders that he could scoop up and fire to a first baseman dad. I don’t know when we last played catch, but we did. It probably was toward the end of his last season of organized ball, but I don’t know exactly on what day.
My daughter loved to swing on an old metal play set, also in our backyard. We have photographs and videos, as well, of me standing behind, pushing her into the air. The pigtails of a six year old fluttered in the breeze on a chilly winter day. Even in the cold, she still enjoyed this time to spend with her dad. These carefree, innocent days of childhood were fleeting even as they transpired. I don’t know when I last swung her, but I did. On one of those days of winter, or perhaps in springtime, we walked back into our home after an hour of happiness that would never be shared the same again.
In March of 2013, I hope to stand at the base of the plaque on Springer Mountain, which designates the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A little over five months later, in late August, I hope to be posing for a final photograph at the marker that sits atop Katahdin. Both events, if they do come to pass, also in all likelihood, will be for one final time. Throughout the spring and summer, as my mother cooks on her last stove, her son will be travelling north, working hard to complete a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, both for the first and last time.
As I walk from Georgia to Maine, I expect to meet many other travelers. Some of those may become friends with whom I’ll later exchange a Christmas card or perhaps call to wish a happy birthday. Others I’ll see for a last time somewhere along the way. We won’t know it at the moment. We may not even remember where it occurred. All we will realize, and come to appreciate even more keenly over the years, is that we walked together, fellow pilgrims toward a destination and a dream. As Ulysses says in Tennyson’s poem, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Each of us will become a part of the other, when we initially exchange greetings, and also when we say our goodbyes, for what very well may be a last time. Life has so much to offer, and so does a journey along the Appalachian Trail.