I think most of us are trying to wrestle with a few new dynamics in our world. Things that never were (masks at the grocery store) are now fashion statements (mine are printed with trees and bears). Our friends are on ends of a spectrum of fear or denial that has us questioning our relationships, re-evaluating trust, and isolating for reasons separate from germ spread.
The initial gusto of creative solutions was replaced with a ho-hum of acceptance and now just an abysmal apathy. In a time like this, I start to wonder, “If the apocalypse is coming, why is it taking so long?”
At the risk of succumbing to the same diseases as my annual garden (“failure to thrive” – or aphids), I cling with a kind of stubborn determination to carry on as usual. But this, too, is a farce. My mountain adventures are more frequent, they last longer, they require more recovery. It is not by accident.
I took my dad on one of these “expeditions of avoidance” last weekend. I was reminded of every time in my life my dad schmoozed me into an outdoor idea that resulted in things like getting lost on our bikes at night in cougar country or his girlfriend driving up and down a dark highway looking for us hours after we were supposed to be home.
She must have some sort of Lost-Midstokke beacon or something. She always finds us. And she always has food ready. There are many reasons she is family, but her understanding of our poor navigation skills and large appetites is among my favorites.
For seven hours I kept saying things like, “It’s just another couple of switchbacks,” and, “I think it gets smoother up ahead.” These are not exactly lies, but the same voice of optimism I am using as I encourage my child to get comfortable with a mask or tell my patients they will only be temporarily dependent on copious amounts of red wine.
I watched as my dad tucked his head between his shoulders, clad in a bright shirt, helmet strapped to his handlebars, and spun his legs for mile after mile in quiet assent of the grinding ascent. When we got to the part where we pedaled up a rocky river bed road for hours of kidney-bruising, quad-crushing miles, he didn’t complain. In fact, he shared his trail mix.
If we wanted to get to where we were going, then we must accept the path. There may be some other ways, of course. They may be less bumpy, but far steeper. We never know if we are on the right way until we get there. The only certainty we have is a shared need for going to the place.
This is a quality I have inherited from my father. It is perhaps the dwindling remnants of our Viking heritage – a need to explore not only a place, but what our bodies might be capable of doing. Thus far, the conclusion seems to be “lots of suffering.”
As per usual, we took longer than planned, the road was bumpier, and we ran out of food. And as per usual, the view of the horizon, crisp and blue and speckled with fluffy clouds, stretched infinitely before our eyes as a reminder of our insignificant problems and the impermanence of humanity. For some reason, that was comforting.
Some things are a constant in this changing world, like the steady cadence of my dad’s bike pedals or his willingness to keep an open mind. I want to absorb the same kind of patient curiosity and apply it to the uncertainty of our times, to my faith in humanity and the common good.
I suspect it’s that truth that lies at the middle of the spectrum of fear and denial. Everything is not normal. And we’re going to be OK.
We just have to keep pedaling until we get there.
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