Dry Bones by George Merrill


My knee is on the mend. The bones have realigned. I am happy to report I am out walking again. I didn’t fully realize how much I missed it until the rubber (my sneakers) hit the road. It felt like I’d been given a second chance.

On the walk I was reminded how hot Maryland summers are. It is mid-July. We have relatives in Georgia who claim Georgia’s the hottest place on the planet except maybe at its core. Not so. Maryland beats Georgia and the earth’s core hands down. It’s not just the heat, but also the humidity, which, if you’re inclined, you can wring it straight out of the air without any help from a cloth or sponge.

But back to my walk. Once resigned to the heat and humidity, I got into the delights of mobility and began looking around as I walked cautiously along the road. I felt like the child riding his bike for the first time without training wheels.

I usually keep my eyes lowered some in front so I see a short distance ahead. I scan the road that way to see any critters that might be joining me on my stroll. There are occasionally grasshoppers, once a turtle, ants and bees, especially wasps that seem to enjoy just hanging out on the road. And indeed I did see, of all creatures, a wooly bear. I’m accustomed to seeing wooly bears on my fall walks, but in July’s blazing heat, this was new to me. She was overdressed for the day wearing her dark brown and orange fur coat that I always assumed was to keep her warm in the winter. I will say, though, she undulated along happily, like a tiny balloon filled with water, and seemed to pay no attention to the heat.

I walked close the culvert that retained a few inches of water. I was soon to discover that it was the sanctuary to a host of good-sized bullfrogs. I was not aware of them at first. As I grew close to one, he squealed and “plop,” dove into the water. I note here that unlike what people imagine about bullfrogs, they squeal and squeak as often as they croak in that full basso profundo with its deep resonance.

All the frogs in the culvert were ready for me. As I approached the next one he squealed and jumped and so did about six others in succession the way dominoes, when set up a certain way, fall consecutively after the first one is toppled. It was fun to hear the “plop, plop” as I made my way up the road. I once read a published haiku that said nothing more than: “ A frog jumps in the water, plop.” The poet had a way with words.

I was doing famously – tickled pink about my newly healed bones – and was nearing my first half-mile. Then I began to ache in the most unlikely places – not as I half expected in my abused knee, but everywhere else. It began hurting in my right buttock, my thigh, and then down the front of my leg. My hip protested a little. Then I noticed my ankle ached some and suddenly, after eighty-two years of living in this very same body, I realized just how much I had wholly underestimated the number of moving parts that constitute my frame and sinew – particularly the bone and sinew from my hips on down.

Ezekiel’s proclamation, as celebrated in the famous African-American spiritual, Dry Bones, promises that at the resurrection “dem bones gonna walk around.” The spiritual explores in considerable detail how our bones are assembled one upon the other, which one is attached to which, but mentions nothing about how they will feel when first moved after not being exercised – in my case for over a month. Consider too, those who have been waiting for centuries to be raised from the dead; those first hours on their feet are not going to be any cakewalk. Maybe Ezekiel failed to mention synovial fluids, which, if included when the saints go marching in, would be sufficient to lubricate the long unused joints and mitigate pain as well.

I’m always surprised how it is that what I have so much of, I give such little thought to. My ability to move about easily – to jump, kneel and run – when I was younger I now look upon with nostalgia and some regret. The regret is that when I had it so good, I was hardly thankful for the abundance I was enjoying. Now that I have agility again, but in much more limited measure, I am far more grateful.

Gratitude is a peculiar emotion: it’s felt in inverse proportions to our blessings; there is less gratitude when we enjoy many blessings, while when there are fewer, our gratitude increases.

I’m grateful to be on the road again.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Kathy Bosin says:

    Beautiful, George. Having experienced some down time myself, I appreciate your appreciation for mobility. It’s a beautiful thing. Happy walking.

  2. JAN BOHN says:

    Great article, George. YYoy’re right about taking all that mobility for granted and now that we don’t have it we really miss it and are grateful for what we have. But the hottest feeling place in the US ;has to be Houston, Texas. The humidity here isn’t even worth mentioning. Although my husband’s former colleagues in Mumbai, India probably would claim the prize -on a 106F day in Houston with 99% humidity it was 130F in Mumbia with99% humidity.

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