Yesterday, I got perspective.
I was hiking up Two Bears, my favorite local hike, and one I’ve committed to hitting as close to daily as I can to help me
not loathe survive embrace and enjoy this winter season. I’m not in amazing shape right now, but my cardio is decent and going in the right direction. I was within a hundred yards of the top, nearing that final steep slant, when a woman came jogging down toward me. I tend to greet every hiker I pass with some pleasantry, so I told her, “Doing great!”
She smiled and said, “Oh, you’ll see me again. I’m coming back up.”
“Cool,” I said.
Then I proceeded to huff and puff to the top. I’ve done this hike enough in the past two months to have become a connoisseur of snow conditions. Powdery? Slushy? Perhaps a fine, crusty glaze that breaks on contact? Some days it’s soft and slushy at the trailhead, getting firm at the middle, and crystalline by the time I reach the top. Yesterday we had medium slush all the way to the top, where it was just beggining to solidify, and, to my suprise, a patch of rock next to the trail had appeared. Melting snow! I stared at if for a moment and thought, “Hey, Spring is almost here!”
I stayed at the top for a few minutes, praying and breathing, soaking in the view.
Sometimes, when I feel like crap starting off, I can, in real time, observe the internal shift happening in the final third of the ascent and in those minutes up top. Heaviness, discouragement, and negative thoughts that seemed the entirety of objective reality in the parking lot now appear “a pebble lying on a gravel road”* from the top.
Then I started down that steep slant, which can be slippery and treacherous even in good conditions. It’s the most important section to focus on your footwork if you don’t want to slide and sprawl on your face. I passed a guy coming up and we smiled and agreed that the trail had gotten icy again, and that this section is even harder coming down than going up.
My knees felt a little unhappy with the downhill. The slush was freezing up again, which makes each impact harder. I should mention that I had started “late,” flirting with getting down after sunset (4:43PM in Wenatchee yesterday), which meant both the temperature had dropped and the remaining light–cloudy and overcast–had gone “flat,” making it harder to see my footing.
Then she was there again. Right in front of me. I saw her approaching and tried to calculate how long since I’d last seen her. I didn’t stay at the top that long.
“All the way down and back up again?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
She smiled and, with a verbal shrug, said “Thanks.”
And up she went.
I wish I could have recorded her one word, “Thanks,” so you would know exactly what I’m about to describe. It was the “thanks” of being polite, acknowledging my amazement, and also conveying “it isn’t really that big a deal.”
I don’t mean she was boasting by downplaying something amazing, I mean clearly this didn’t strike her as amazing at all. It’s the tone I would use if, while casually throwing a disc back and forth with a friend, I dove to catch one as someone passed and they exclaimed “Wow!” “Thanks,” as in Yes, I can do that but lots of people can do that and it’s not so impressive. She wasn’t responding to my compliment as her workout versus mine, but her workout versus her picture of what “amazing” actually means.
It wasn’t being lapped by this tall, not-so-much-younger-than-me trail runner that impacted me. I don’t pretend I’m the fastest hiker up Two Bears and I’m not competing with anyone out there. I’m trying to stay healthy with parts that injure much easier than they once did and take freaking forever to heal when I do injure them. The one syllable spoke so much more than just having her blow past.
Perspective is defined** as “a visible scene.” It’s also “a mental view.” I hike Two Bears to get both. Forty to fifty minutes of deep breathing gets me to the top where I can see our city, the river, our end of the valley, and sometimes mountain ranges beyond ranges in the distance. The exertion also, almost always, helps correct my “capacity to view things in their true relation or relative importance.” A pebble on the road is not a boulder on my chest.
Not to overstate it, “Things” = “life,” “my existence,” “self-talk,” “others’ treatment of me,” and “God’s involvement in the world.”
Her perspective was that doing what might have killed me, or at best left me sprawling and heaving, was not so difficult.
I could do a second consecutive climb of Two Bears; I don’t think I could run up it once at her speed, much less twice–and I didn’t ask her if she were doing “only” twice or how many times she’d gone up and down already. Once you start to consider the possibilities…
Now please hear me: I’m not envying her. I’m dazzled by her, but also aware that I can do things that others can’t quite imagine. Those things don’t seem impressive to me, because I do them. Perspective. Two Bears is not an easy hike, from a casual hiker perspective, as friends from out of town whom I’ve invited to join me*** might attest.
But our perspective is rooted utterly in our experience. What isn’t hard for you may be so far beyond my capacity that I have to laugh. I’ve always said I’ll run a marathon someday, but after my ultimate days are over, because I don’t want to spend what I’ve got left in my legs before I “retire.” When I started saying that, I did not imagine I’d still be playing hard**** in my fifties. Meanwhile, Natalie, a friend whom I knew from her high school days just completed her fifty-fourth marathon. If you want to know whether or not a marathon is hard, which of us should you ask? My friend Jeff just shared that he’s signed up to run a fifty-mile race. You know, a marathon and then most of a second one. I’m fairly sure that will not be the hardest competition he’s entered.
My deeper point here is not merely “some people can run farther than others.” From getting a glimpse of the Running Woman’s perspective, I was reminded how much we live within our own view, our own experience. It’s one thing to say “I know my view is not objective”–and let’s be honest, some of us don’t even admit that–but quite another to enter into someone else’s perspective. We believe that our experience is the norm, the default.
A couple implications to leave with you.
I am competitive and make no secret of it. I believe that competition can be healthy and bring out the best in us. But life itself is not a competition. That one took me a while to grasp. This was central in my “capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.”
We often make “things” more important than they are, certainly than they need to be. I think sometimes we do so because it’s more enjoyable that way, e.g. who wins an NFL game has virtually nothing to do with most of us, but some of us get pretty darned excited or bummed nonetheless. I have my “things,” too, that I stubbornly refuse, to reevaluate to ascertain their relative importance. The crucial question, which perspective offers to answer, is “Am I making this more important than it should be to the detriment of others?” That, my friends, is a deep rabbit hole to start down.
But the flip side of this is we do have the freedom to make something a big deal and enjoy it immensely, even if/though it matters little or nothing to others. In this case, I think perspective might be “I love this and I get that it’s not for everyone, but your indifference will not dampen my enjoyment.” This is the freedom of not having to be cool– to or for anyone, ever again. The bottom line here is enjoying my (goofy) things in ways that don’t hurt others in the process. Perspective is realizing that A)maybe they are goofy, in the big picture, ie. when I see them from the top of the mountain, and B)if I can’t grasp how others fail to value them as I do, it’s time to reevaluate.
I think there are some heavier reflections here, but I will make that Part II.
By the way, I got to my car at 5:03, well past sunset. I’m sure it was pure coincidence that I jogged on the way down– and had nothing to do with avoiding being passed again.
*Great Big Sea, “Let It Go.” Listen to this one if you haven’t heard it before. Or if you have, come to think of it.
**Definition of perspective
(Entry 1 of 3)1a: a mental view or prospect; b: a visible scene especially: one giving a distinctive impression of distance: VISTA 2a: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed b: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. Merriam-Webster
***Geordie, Paul, Tad and Pam, of course I don’t mean you–I’m talking about some other visitors.
****Trying hard, okay, hecklers?