A retired Air Force officer named John Ball recently finished walking across the entire United States, over 2500 miles total from the West Coast to the East Coast, to raise money for Texas A&M graduates to get their college rings. He walked the final two miles last week, and met his goal of raising $25,000. The most amazing thing about his journey was not that he actually completed it, or that he only lost a net five pounds doing it, but what he learned in the process. In his online journal’s Epilogue, which he just posted to his website on Sunday, he expressed gratitude and appreciation, answered some questions, and wrote one of the most heartwarming paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:
So where do I go from here? Only God can answer that. And I’m sure he will. If there was one thing I learned during my adventure, it’s that God’s hand is in our everyday lives, and he is in control of our situations. There were so many times that seemingly unexplainable good fortune would come my way when I most needed it, and least expected it. Like the restaurant that just magically appeared at lunch time in the middle of the Arizona desert. Or the orthopedic store I happened upon when I really needed some help with my shoes. And certainly, it’s not just blind luck that I met so many nice people who took me in and kept me from sleeping on the side of the road. I had a plan, but God was the one really in control of my destiny and I thanked him every day for seeing me through.
Some avid hikers call the kind of synchronicity the Mr. Ball experienced, “trail magic.” It’s when, for example, long-distance hikers (like those on the Appalachian Trail) find themselves exhausted, struggling to get to the next campsite. Then someone unexpectedly appears with just what they need, right when they need it most. It might be food, supplies, a ride to the nearest town, or encouragement. Maybe it’s just a glimpse of deer through the trees that leaves the hiker in awe. But it’s that simple: that’s trail magic. The person who experiences trail magic is not only attuned to needs miraculously fulfilled, but recognizes the odd serendipity of the moment.
This kind of synchronicity happens to all of us, all of the time. It may, however, be easier to recognize when life is simpler. A hiker on a trail can normally recognize, visualize, and fulfill a need easier than, say, a Congressional intern scrambling through seventy-five tasks in a day. Regardless of the circumstances, however, trail magic in life is real. My dad referred to the coincidences and special signs as “signal graces,” although I’ve also heard them described with the cheery phrase, “God winks.”
It’s heartening to know that Mr. Ball, having walked across the entire United States, meeting average Americans every day and not lacking time to think, summed up the most important lesson of the journey as recognizing God’s hand in our lives, being aware of all the magic along the way. I believe it’s an important reminder for all of us. Most of us won’t be walking across the nation or an entire continent. But we can walk across the street, or just through our neighborhoods, and find the exact same thing: wonderful people, acts of kindness, and miraculous moments of grace. If we’re open to the love and magic in life, the right thing appears at just the perfect time. And it just might be better than we ever expected.
If you’d like to read Mr. Ball’s travel journal, about his entire walk across the United States, you can view it online here: http://thewalkingaggie.com/journal/
T. M. Yates is the author of Signal Grace, a memoir about her difficult relationship with her military father and the magical coincidences in life.