One may wonder what would inspire someone to work hard labor voluntarily. For me it’s the love of many things. It’s the passion that won’t be broken. Because there are so many aspects to such service for me, that it may seem beyond comprehension. I’d compare it to my youthful desire to enter the military as a young child. Then for a multitude of reasons only to follow through thirteen years later at age eighteen entering the Marines.
There were things that followed me throughout my life. Sometimes they were questions of how I ever gave up my over decade’s life dream to become a New Jersey State Trooper. My childhood desire to never wed—to never have any serious relationships with another human being. I desired only service in military and law enforcement nearly my whole childhood. Too the extent that even one of my Marine Corps superiors expressed to me last July, “I never thought you’d ever get married. It just wasn’t who you were. You were always a loner.” I replied, “Yeah. I know. I’m still pinching myself. I’m still spinning trying to reckon with it—being married over 36 years to one guy. It’s kind of crazy.” We laughed.
Way back forty years ago she’d seen me as a super serious, single-minded, driven type of person enough to never deviate from the path I appeared to be on. Every once in a while, she’d refer to me as ‘Crazy Jody’. I indeed may have to lived up to that pseudo-name. As she’d known me to have run behind firing ranges and by ammunition dumps to get miles in on base at 4:30 in the morning.
Now fast-forward, as my 36 year plus marriage wound down into literal death upon the passing of my husband, Norman. Some wondered what I’d do. Everyone thought I was retired. Hec, I was nearing age 60 when he died. Aside from my full-time work, I hadn’t had a fight competition since near age 54. And I hadn’t ran a race since age 46. I’d been working at my therapy business well past ligament tears in both hands as they’d completely went in 2014, and in 2020 I was still at it. Twenty-eight years in an unforgiving business to one’s hands. Never mind my elbows, shoulders, and pects. One doctor told me I’d be done by 2002. Two others shook their heads as my internist held my one hand in 2003 and said, “You’re too tough on your body.” The other expressed in 2016, “I don’t know how you’re doing this.”
However, the thing that took me down was my soul, not my hands, elbows, shoulders nor my pects. One day I’d said to a priest when he called me and queried to me a year ago about when I was coming back and practicing therapy again. I replied, “Father, it’s my soul. That part of my soul has left the building and I don’t think it’s coming back. I need to be among the living. I can no longer do death and dying.”
Yes, that was and is the truth. Or at least one of the main reasons halting my practice. And since the Covid shutdown, I’d thrown myself into more family care—between our two daughters and the household chores done by my deceased husband, that I now do.
Too, I can say I trust less—more than ever before. To the point, I’ve accomplished things after his death I never thought I could do. I was on this never-ending spinning reel after his passing. The one thing I could do besides taking online college courses and courses to keep my therapy license was to continue to write. So, the past three years I’d been writing four to fourteen hours a day, every day. Unless, I had a big house project like de-stumping the backyard, redoing the kitchen, stripping the wallpaper off the bathroom walls, hand sanding, priming, and painting it or stripping the paint off the back door and doorstep, sanding, priming and painting that as well—then to building a lavender peace garden in memory of Norman. Too, taking down smaller old trees and forty plus year old shrubs and such, redoing the parameter around the house.
In nearly three years I’d written four more books and over ten screenplays since becoming a widow, with now one kid in college and one about to head off to college. I needed to start earning a little cash. We’d saved a bit; we were frugal. Didn’t go out to eat much, nor hired a landscaper, nor a house cleaner. We were a solid middle class family. I knew there’d be a point for me to get back into the work force and earn a regular paycheck, instead of just waiting on small funds from my writing.
Last year after I’d taken ten college courses and gotten Google Data Analytics 260 Hours Certificate accreditation, I attempted to look for a part-time job to restart my therapy work. Only this time I wanted to do the very basics and work for someone else. Let them pay me weekly. I’d closed my therapy business forever. Soon upon doing research and speaking with owners and managers of places needing therapists, I soured on hearing and seeing the standards that were beneath mine as a therapist. So, I decided to perhaps get a basic cashier’s job at a local market. But I wasn’t certain, for our youngest was a senior in high school and I wanted to be there for every event, until she told me to knock it off, lol.
I wanted to remain totally available to our daughters. They’d had much loss in their lives, and I would prevent anymore loss as much as I could. During these now nearly three years since hubby’s passing, one thing was a mainstay—his spirit. It’s like it follows me. It follows us. Before he died, I suggested that any donations in his memory should be to the NY/NJ Trail Conference. He agreed 100%, a few months before he’d passed. He was a lifelong hiker, gotten Passaic city high school kids involved in it since 1995. He'd created and managed the high school hiking club for over twenty years.
Norman proposed to me in Harriman about a mile and a half up from Reeves Meadow on Friday, June 10th, 1983, at about six o’clock in the evening. We met on the midnight shift at UPS. And every time I see a UPS truck now, my heart leaps for joy inside me. I get super happy. When I see the UPS truck in my neighborhood—if he stops at my home, which is rare. Well, and if I haven’t met the guy yet. While he’s looking for a package I tell him about how my husband and I met, and what his little brown truck has meant in our lives. Every UPS driver I’d met in the past few years loves that story. They tell me every time that story made their day.
Throughout almost daily experiences Norman’s spirit seems to follow me and then follows us. Yes, I drive his car every day. But it’s not just that. Its little signs of existence. My husband had wanted to treat the girls to skiing out west. He knew it could be a neat experience for either of them. This past March our oldest decided to travel with three of her friends for four days during their university’s spring break. The four college friends travelled to Lake Tahoe. Our oldest was the only skier. She had to rent skis. Upon renting them, the rented skis just happen to have my husband’s name on them. She’d sent me a picture and texted, “Look who I’m skiing with…” There were so many happenings that were date oriented, seemingly serendipitous at key moments of our lives since his passing. Life altering saving heartache moments as if something far greater than life itself existed occurred. Miracles. Yes, I will go as far as that, to say they were indeed that powerful.
Both times as our daughters were to graduate high school, severe storms were predicted. Dark clouds hovered and all looked lost to have the events outside. Especially in 2021 when Covid was still lurking, as to have it inside would have been such a downer. I prayed and imagined Norman being there, wondering if he could somehow witness our daughters achieving Valedictorian and then the youngest accomplish being Salutatorian. Norman would have been crying for joy. Yes, he was the sensitive guy, the nurturer. He nurtured our house plants as well. He named them, yep. He talked to them too. I don’t think many people knew that about Norman.
Norman was the guy who loved trees. He wanted to be a forest ranger at one point. He had a degree in Botany; then one in Psychology, then a degree in Teaching and Math then to a Masters in Critical Thinking. There was more, as he’d attempted a graduate degree in Psychology before he’d met me. He also had become Nationally Certified in Massage Therapy before we had become parents. All that before age fifty. He passed young in his 26th year of teaching high school math in the inner city.
Before he’d become terminal he was in shape enough to run a fifty-mile trail race at age fifty. And had raced several 26.2 mile marathons. He as well was musically inclined. His guitar playing and gains he made in music in his late forties and through his fifties was incredible. However, hiking was truly his thing. One of his favorite areas was Harriman. Everything Norman did, he did it with enthusiasm as such of a new student, including pet care of hermit crabs, guinea pigs and most definitely our bunnies. He’d acquiesced our daughters (and sometimes me, lol) on having pets.
So, upon his passing donations were made to NY/NJ Trail Conference. But to me giving service always brings just a little more joy into the schematics of life. I had the great opportunity to do it weekly nearly every year of my business. I had always told myself that it was quite easy to write a check. It fulfills a couple of needs. Yet deep down I always need more, it’s just feels never enough. Even writing two checks to one charity didn’t suffice my soul. It’s like a five-minute feel good then it fades away.
But if I have to earn it, like running hours or days for charities to get people involved and donate money and time; then I feel I’ve truly committed myself to the service of others. So earlier this year I happened upon NY/NJ Trail Conference needing trail crew volunteers full time for either three months, six months or nine months. I knew I could do three months of full-time work and figured to work it around our youngest’s main graduation events. There was a modest stipend and a student monetary perk that also could be attained after putting in the said hours at the end of the three-month stint.
As I briefly pondered such an idea. I knew I needed to be outside, doing physical labor. Too, it was the best way to re-enter the work force—as I once again craved good effort, hard work and taking orders. The other perk I found out later during the first interview that my peers would most likely be our daughter’s ages. I was thrilled, for I would be around the living. The newness, the enthusiastic, the future that lay ahead for others. Now I could listen to the future as I worked. What joy I knew could be derived from the experience. Gets better.
After the first three weeks of training, working outdoors with a larger team, I received Harriman as my then permanent trail crewing workplace. Got even better. I came home after my first few days there and told our youngest where I was working, and I thought she’d never heard of Lake Kanawauke. She had. As a matter of fact, that was the last place Norman and her had hiked before he’d gotten sick in 2019. I believe it was his last hike from what I can recall.
The following week of work at Lake Kanawauke below the Tom Jones shelter area was a quarry section that our five-person crew were allowed to pull up to twenty-five large rocks from to make steps, bases, and platforms to fix portions of the steep climbs making them more hike-able. It may sound like a lot of rocks, but they must be sturdy enough to be moved, drilled, and moved again into place without breaking or chipping out and cutting off the measurements that we know were needed. Each base, platform and step would probably be between 300 and 600 pounds, the original rock itself may have been upon our first movement over 1,000 pounds. Some could be buddied tightly together to appear as if all one rock step was fitted into place.
So here we all stood working mostly in this seemingly forever rock quarry in the middle of the side of the mountain, where beech, birch, oak, and swamp maple trees coexisted. Where blueberry shrubs and mountain laurels drape the vacated tree sites with white flowers and the beginning of the delayed blueberries popping out from their greenness. And in the middle of it all, somehow we’d not seen it. Yet it stood near twenty inches high and uncrushed. Not a wither to her. She stood there as if to salute our efforts of conservation, and proper trail crew work. With Huge Rocks all around her she stood unafraid, as she heard drilling, the clanging of metal on metal, the dinks of metal on rock, our calls out for safety and orders. There stood one of Norman’s favorite trees. All twenty inches of her height—the White Pine.
I asked one of our peers, a young electrical engineering student, “Joe, see this white pine?” He replied, “Yes.” I asked, “Where did it come from?” Joe looked up and all around as we had a rest period and drank water on the rocks. He was as bewildered as I’d seemed. Joe remarked, “Now that’s a mystery. There’s no white pines around here.” I replied, “I haven’t seen one in this entire time. Nor on the hike up and down here all these days.” I went over to the white pine and stroked its wispy long needles and whispered, “You’re so beautiful. Thank you.”---Jody-Lynn Reicher