This morning we awoke to a layer of snow on the ground that was four inches deep. It was three-below-zero outside, so the snow was light and fluffy. “Low moisture content snow,” I heard the weatherman say.
In it’s fluffiest state, it wasn’t hard to brush the snow off the side windows of the Subaru. But the back and front windshields had a scrunchy layer of ice clinging to the glass. Sue climbed into the vehicle on the passenger side as I walked around the car brushing the snow off the windows with my gloves. She was digging around the back seat wells to snag the brush and scraper, and handed it to me out the door.
I dug into the front windshield with the scraper and apparently struck the wiper blade the wrong way. It popped off from the wiper arm of the car and lay there like a cold black bone in the dim morning light. I looked at it numbly in the dark, and picking it up, noticed that it looked chipped or broken. So I handed it into the vehicle for Sue to look at more closely in the light of the car.
She reached up to turn on the dome light and hit the button for the sunroof instead. As the window opened, an avalanche of snow on the roof spilled into the car and fell all over Sue and everything else in sight.
We both burst out laughing with surprise and shock. There was an even layer of snow on everything in the car. It even filled up her open purse, was gathered in the cupholders and made its way down between the seats and the arm rest between us.
“Oh. My. God.” she lamented. “I’m so sorry…”
That was how we started the day. Adrift in our own vehicle.
Getting on with it
We arrived at the indoor track still chuckling about the snow incident. The parking lot at the rec center was all cleared of snow. It was pushed into crumbly drifts at the far ends of the parking lot. “Someone was up early,” she said.
Indeed, the employees at the health club do an amazing job every day of keeping the place clean and neat for members. I compliment the staff all the time, and say thanks. I’ve gotten to know one guy pretty well. He uses the early morning hours to drive the Zamboni-like floor cleaner all over the fieldhouse floor. “This weather must be hell on the floors,” I said.
“This job never ends,” he admitted. “I clean it up and twenty minutes later it doesn’t look like I’ve done a thing.” All the salt and slush gets tracked in from outside.
It’s often been said of athletes and workers that you’re only as good as your last performance. To some extent, your life’s purpose is dependent on how you feel about the last thing you’ve done. It’s like we’re perpetually riding a wave of expectation, like a surfer staying upright on a board of hope. Occasionally we wipe out and find ourselves adrift without a board. The only thing to do is paddle our way ashore and start all over again.
But a wiser woman that I dated when I was 23 and she was 33 once told how to handle disasters when they happen, “It’s all in the recovery,” she told me. She was right, and that statement is doubly true for athletes. The workouts are important, but the recovery is just as important.
I once blew a question during a job interview by drawing a blank. But later during the interview I saw an opportunity, to answer that same question, and did so, with seamless. And I got the job.
So it’s true that while you never know when we’re going to fuck up in life, it’s pretty obvious that all of us will fuck up sooner or later. And it’s also true that people tend to admire those who eventually come clean about their screwups. Look at Robert Downey, Jr. People tend to love him as an actor precisely because his f’d up past seems to give richness to the personas he creates.
Then again, it sometimes pays to help someone realize the folly of their own self-image or perverse obsessions.
A hypochondriac woman who goes to the doctor. The doctor looks her over and says, “I can’t find a single thing wrong with you….” The woman replies, “What?! I want a second opinion.” The doctor says, “Okay, you’re ugly too.”
You can’t say that woman didn’t have it coming. People who whine or complain all the time are adrift in their own little sea of misery. No one likes to be around that for long. Even the people who do all the complaining can hardly stand themselves. They just need someone to show them the way.
It can take a massive correction or life-changing event to get some people over and past their self-immolations. I well recall the time my college roommate and fellow runner turned to me one cold January night after a long run in the murk of darkness. I’d been complaining about the pace the whole way, and my roommate said to me, “You know Cud, you just need to shut up and run.”
That was the kick in the pants that I needed. With renewed focus I tackled that winter’s indoor track schedule and ran all my PRs in distances from the 1500 up to the 5000. I was no longer adrift at all. There was focus. Intensity. He’d steered me the right direction.
At some point in our lives, all of us experiences periods where we feel like we’re adrift or confined in some way. That’s when finding some sort of empiric measure of our self-worth can really help. It might be a track workout where the times and distances are unforgiving. It might be a Computrainer ride where every pedal stroke is recorded. It might be a session in the pool where the yardage is known and the times and rest measures, absolute. These are the abstract adjuncts to our real life hopes for actualization.
In those moments or truth, one learns not to compromise and not to complain. You can walk onto the track feeling equivocal about life and walk off feeling like you’ve nailed something to the wall. The words “That hurt” are sometimes the best form of inspirational advice you can give to yourself. Because it’s fucking real. Pain, that is.
Definition of your soul
Sometimes its enough of a revelation to generate your own 95 Theses, That was the definition soul the former Catholic priest Martin Luther found once he realized grace was more important than penance.
Why shouldn’t you pursue that kind of purpose in your life? I know I try. Every day.
But even if it’s not that profound an experience, it pays to push yourself beyond the point of complaint to a point of post-concern or worry where you no longer question yourself. Survival or completion of the mission is the issue. You are no longer adrift, but swimming, riding and running for your life.
It is no cliche to say that all of life is a battle of some sort. People in combat have complaint washed out of them through training. Boot camp tears you down and builds you back up. Some might argue with the military allegory, blaming it for the ills of the world, in fact. But tell me there isn’t a day, every day in fact, when you don’t have to fight for something in which you believe?
For those of us who aren’t soldiers by trade, we have to make that choice for ourselves. We have to choose our battles. Like the salt spread at our feet, it is ours to melt away the fears and complaint of unknown, and start on that journey. So go do it.