Somewhere on the fine line between hope and superstition, I went for a walk.
The walk started at work. This was back before I knew about having azoospermia, when having babies was still a possibility, when we were still trying out names and middle names, when we were still hopeful. I walked from the office (in the middle of woodland) during my lunch break, picked up a stone from the ground and carried it off the site, round a corner and up a path that took me to the brow of a hill that overlooks a panorama of north London, Essex and Hertfordshire.
That hillside became a favourite spot for my midday meanderings. On that first walk I gripped the stone tightly until I reached the perfect spot. I placed it on the ground there, crouched beside it, looked out and talked to God.
I told Him that it was my heart’s desire to start a family. That I’d give that child all the best of me. That I’d raise it right. That my wife would make a fantastic mother. That I’d try and live more wholeheartedly, more worshipfully, more selflessly, if it meant receiving the desire of my heart.
I turned back and continued the day. Over the next weeks and months, I would return to that spot when I had the chance, a new stone in hand, and repeat my prayer, thus demonstrating my commitment to the cause. The pile of stones on the hillside grew. But of course no child was conceived.
I don’t know what, if anything, it means, this pile of stones on the hillside. I suppose it’s just a real life illustration of the things we all do to try and effect a change on our world, regardless of our beliefs, of what’s true, or fate, or pre-ordained. We all have our own ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs’, bargains we make with God or the universe; things we’d do differently if things were different.
After the azoospermia diagnosis, I returned less frequently to that hillside. But I did go back. As someone who believes in miracles, I repeated my prayer, and have repeated it on and off ever since. I wrestled a bit with God there and then. But something had changed. I couldn’t see all the stones I’d dropped there months before.
Was this a symbol of my dwindling hope?
I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus once said that all you need is faith the size of a seed, and that with that, even mountains could move. (Matthew 17:20) This doesn’t always help – in fact it confounds me most of the time when it appears nothing has changed. But what it does challenge me to do is to look wider, across the vista, to try and comprehend where and why those stones have moved; that maybe it’s not about my pile of rubbly hopes, but about something bigger.
So I try to move from my limited viewpoint of a heap of stones and search the hillside for a sighting of that bigger picture, that purpose, that moving mountain, that word from God.
That’s why I think life is more of a walk than a work. As you walk, you can try moving the stones all you like, but life will shift them as well. Every walk has its own rocks (and hard places). These are mine.
It’s best to keep moving.