Breaking Through


Paul, the young landscaper I had hired to redo my irrigation system asked, “Would you mind if we dug up a small area of the flagstones? It would make laying the new irrigation lines a lot easier.”

“Yes, I mind,” I responded, enjoying the surprised look on his face. “I want you to get rid of that whole flagstone and concrete path. For years I’ve hated looking at it.” He nodded. “And,” I added, “while you’re at it, I’d like you to take out all the concrete between the house and the garage and in front of the garage.”

He was laughing too hard to say anything but I was on a roll and not about to stop. “And, please get rid of the trellis—it’s a heavy pressure-treated wood eyesore that’s overbuilt and expensive to maintain.” For years I’d been resenting the money it cost to keep the outside of my house looking moderately appealing and the timing was perfect. I was heading off to hike in the Grand Canyon and Paul could work his magic in my absence. 

While I was happily hiking, clambering over rocks and up and down canyon walls, wading in streams, fording waist high Havasu Creek waters, and screaming at a rattlesnake, I knew Paul’s workers were releasing the earth around my house from its concrete prison. When I came back from six days of being immersed in the wonders of nature, I discovered the wonders of the new landscaping: the earth around my house felt alive, breathing, grateful to be liberated from the heavy pressure bearing down on it.

Shortly after I returned, still glowing from the memory of the trip, a strained family relationship finally broke. Ended. Finished. Numb from the irrevocability of it, I watched workers drill into the last bit of concrete, a two-foot rise abutting the house. I observed the noise and dust and flying pieces of material—a lot of mess was created before the area was cleared and the earth restored. The lightness of the landscape was in stark contrast to the heaviness in my heart. I stared at the newly released earth, wondering if I could change my inner landscape as significantly as the outer landscape had been changed. What would it take to break up the concrete encasing my heart?

Two weeks later, the trip I had planned, to see a friend and family, was shattered by the destroyed family relationship. Instead of canceling the trip, I decided to visit my friend and shorten my stay. Grieving and dispirited about the broken family ties, I slunk up to the airport counter to exchange my return ticket for an earlier date. I was upset about having to return home on my birthday instead of celebrating it with my family. The airline agent pointed to the computer and told me to make the change. I am not good with computers on the best of days, but when I am upset, I am barely capable of typing. “Can you help me?” I asked the agent. She replied curtly that I had to do it myself. “Please, don’t be mean,” I responded, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“I’m not mean, it’s set up for you to do it yourself,” she retorted. Upset and unable to figure it out, I told her how I had tried unsuccessfully to change my flight the night before and that the whole process was too complicated for me. Shrugging, she typed something on her computer, and then said, “Choose one,” pointing to the plethora of flights on the screen. I did. Then I tried to treat myself to preferred seating, but my choice wouldn’t go through. Flustered and frustrated, I discovered to my horror that the changes I had made were to my outbound flight, leaving in an hour, rather than to the return flight. 

You may have been in a similar situation: overwhelmed, emotionally overwrought, at the end of a short tether. Well, I lost it. I begged her for assistance. Grudgingly she helped me make the correct flight change but what she said afterward was a confused jumble. I had to call the airline to get a fee reversal. Then I had to pay a new fee? Then. Then. Then. By now, water was streaming non-stop from my eyes and I no longer understood a word she said. I was embarrassed and self-conscious, but it didn’t stop me from asking about the preferred seating. “ Please,” I said, “please help me. I really need your help.” The agent looked at me oddly, her posture softened, and she said she’d call upstairs and tell the agents we’d made a mistake. 

“We?” I repeated. “I made the mistake.”

“No, she said, “we made a mistake. I should have paid more attention to the flight you wanted to change.” She handed me a tissue to wipe my eyes and I thanked her. As I was about to leave, she said, “Give me a hug.” Stunned, I did. 

I thought I was feeling better when I went through security but, as I was being patted down by a large, voluptuous TSA agent, tears cascaded down my face again. She asked what was wrong. I couldn’t tell her how devastated I was by my family situation. Instead, I told her about my befuddlement at the airline computer terminal. When the pat down was finished, she handed me a tissue. As I thanked her, she said, “Give me a hug.” Stunned for the second time, I did. 

The hugs didn’t solve the family problem but they sure cracked the concrete around my heart. Feeling better, I continued my trip and had a pleasant time with my friend. Upon my return to Santa Fe, much to my surprise and delight, I discovered that friends had arranged to bring dinner to my house to help me celebrate my birthday. 

The concrete was not only broken, it was being excavated and dissolved. With the help of strangers and friends, my inner landscape was healing.

Nancy King s most recent books are three novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light*, The Stones Speak*, and a nonfiction book, Dancing With Wonder: Self-Discovery Through Stories. You can read excerpts of her books, as well as order them, on her website

Photos via and Linda Dickson.

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