I have taken up the habit of walking a prescribed path along the edges of the yard. This walking is different from the other kinds of walking I do - the brisk striding to the highway and back that increases my heart rate and makes me feel I'm doing at least a little something toward maintaining my good health; the slow and purposeless ambling through the woods, looking for nothing in particular but hoping to stumble upon something astonishing.
This walking, this perimeter walking, is not slow or fast. It is both purposeful and purposeless. It is a moment in the day in which I re-establish my equilibrium, recalibrate my settings, refocus my attention on the distinction between the urgent and the important.
I am accompanied on these walks by a rosary, a gift from my friend Becky, a souvenir from her trip to Israel. I am not Catholic, and my knowledge of how a rosary is generally used is limited to what I have gleaned from novels by people like Flannery O'Connor and conversations with Catholic friends. Armed with that admittedly limited knowledge, I have developed my own way of using the rosary to draw myself toward all that is sacred.
Sometimes, as I walk and the beads slide through my fingers like silk, each one represents a moment of gratitude from the day I've just lived. Other times, when the soft flesh of my thumb and forefinger are dented by my tight grip on each one, the beads represent the hurts and sorrows and unfulfilled dreams of people I know and love, the bruises and lacerations of my own heart.
Of late I have been accompanied on these meditative strolls by Dave, the new dog. He is still a puppy and is fascinated by anything that flutters, rattles or dangles. Thus, I should not have been surprised the other afternoon when he scampered up behind me, tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth, and suddenly sprang toward the hand clutching the rosary. He managed to get his teeth around the chain, breaking one of the tiny metal links that thread the beads into one long strand of supplications.
It was his first mistake. And because he is not my first dog, I am comfortable in acknowledging that it won't be his last. So I picked up the half-rosary that lay in the edge of the field road and we kept walking.
I have neither the tools nor the eyesight to properly repair something that small. I, therefore, resorted to fishing line - threaded the 40-pound test through two neighboring links and tied it off with knots like the ones Mama taught me to use when hemming a dress, put it back together with the best of what I had.
Before Dave broke my rosary, I was a little careless with it. I held it nonchalantly, loosely, in one hand. I let it swing back and forth, losing track sometimes of where I was in my journey through the beaded labyrinth, depending upon the fact that the trek is always a loop, and either way will take me back to the beginning.
Now, I no longer let it dangle carelessly in rhythm with my stride. I exercise greater care. I hold it with two hands, its beads and links sifting back and forth between them like an elegant Slinky. And when my fingers reach the spot where two beads are held together by a piece of knotted fishing line, I am prompted to regard fragility and adaptability and forgiveness as the graces they are, to remember that all things are sacred, to rely upon the truth that all paths eventually lead home.