“What’s comin’, will come. And we’ll meet it when it does.” – Hagrid, J.K. Rowling
Two hours into what would become a ten hour, ten mile hike across over 2,100 feet of elevation, we were bouldering up a tricky spot near the falls. Our legs and hips were thoroughly warmed up, yet we were still fresh and hydrated in the Tahoe sun.
The boys were barefoot and carrying only light backpacks, so they scrambled up like mountain goats. In my thin climbing shoes and water-laden pack, I got about halfway up and knew I couldn’t make it to the next handhold without sliding dangerously. (Climbing shoes don’t help you stay put on a bald granite surface.) I called to the boys to wait; I would have to go around another way.
My youngest adventurer picked his way down to me and started to brainstorm. “Here, you push your backpack up here. I’ll hold it, and you toss up your shoes. Think you can make it then?” I nodded. We both knew that if it went wrong, it meant a potentially life-threatening fall. I could hear the water rushing close by, even as my eyes trained on the climbing task in front of me.
We went slowly: he carefully reached and grabbed onto the pack, then pulled it from the smooth granite slope onto flat grass. He regained his grip and held fast, instinctively crouching down. I carefully tossed my shoes up to him, and he reached down just as carefully, grasping them to place them next to the pack. I eased myself up, and found handholds. Truly, now that I had the weight of the water off my back, it wasn’t bad at all. I saw why they had lightly hopped up the granite expanse. We both slowly pushed the backpack and shoes up the rest of the incline, knowing the balance was tricky. If we lost the pack, it would be gone for good. We breathed deeply once we pushed it to a wide, flat area where we could all rest and enjoy the view.
I looked at him and said, quietly, “Thank you. I could not have done it without you.” He nodded and sat down to wait. It was not a curt nod, but one of mutual understanding; he knew what he had accomplished. (Nor do I think he will ever forget it.) He was only eight years old.
Today, I mused aloud about what it would be like to take some friends on such a hike. My husband’s response was immediate and sensible: “No, that’s ludicrous.”
“Then why did we do it?” I asked him immediately. The unstated hung in the air: the hike had been HIS idea in the first place.
“Because,” he answered quickly, “they are our flesh and blood and we are ludicrous and so are they. They have no idea that – they just know this is how we live life.”
I smiled. Who takes their children on a ten-hour hike, climbing hundreds of feet of elevation, with signs that indicate, “most difficult terrain”?.
“We are ludicrous,” I said. It felt so freeing.
The fact is, doing things at the edge of your comfort zone, and the edge of your capacity, is how we learn how powerful we really are. Some people can easily visualize themselves doing Big Things.
(Lucky people!) But sometimes we have to be in the middle of doing something Big before we can look down, see ourselves in the middle of it, and finally believe that we are capable of it. There are many ways to do that. In our family, “very difficult terrain” works for us.
A captive audience
About six hours in, we had a great conversation about the French Revolution and “Les Miserables.” One young man wanted to distill the plot of Les Mis: “so, it’s about injustice.” The other wanted to immediately create a play called, “Les Ridicules,” about foppish and clueless nobles who live off the work of others and waste their time on frivolous pursuits. At some point, wigs, gowns, and jewels was explained to me as, “you know, all that bling”.
I was then that I realized just how much I adore being with them: no devices, no distractions; we are a team. No escaping everyone else, because hiking alone is not safe and isn’t allowed. So you come up with things to talk about. Discussions are had. Walls come down, and silliness abounds. Wanting to get home before dark (nope, sorry) is a wonderfully unifying project. We had no “learning outcomes” or “key concepts” that day. But the learning process was taking place.
I have tried to enforce togetherness, thoughtfulness, and a sense of urgency before, with varying degrees of success. I keep thinking of corsets and stays. In the 19th century, these wardrobe torture devices enhancers were strapped to women’s bodies, forcing them into unnatural shapes and constricting their lungs (fainting couch, anyone?). This temporarily forced their bodies into a specific shape and size, and ignored what was healthy for the woman’s body.
By the same token, enforcing emotional togetherness, deep and thoughtful discussion, or even priorities is much like a corset: you can force the body into the shape, but as soon as the corsets come off, the body goes its own way. Then, never discovering how to hold itself upright, the torso has no idea how to find its own strength. It keeps the same shape, perhaps, but put a corseted waist up next to a body trained in Pilates or yoga, and the contrast is stark. One has had its shaped imposed upon it by pressure from the outside; the other has created its shape based on its own experience.
Being ludicrous is more than just taking risks; it’s stepping outside of our comfort zones and seeing how we respond. It’s testing ourselves and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It means becoming intimately familiar with ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and making choices based on what we want to accomplish. It’s knowing that we can figure it out. So simple, yet so challenging.
My oldest adventurer said this morning, “You know, I was afraid a lot! But I did it anyway.”
“That,” I said firmly, “is bravery. It doesn’t mean not having fear. It means doing things anyway.”
“I didn’t know that was SUCH a big hike,” said Oldest, “or I might not have done it.”
“I know,” I said, “that’s why I didn’t tell you.”
As for our eight year old, the very next day he got out the map and asked, “So, what can we conquer next?”
Being ludicrous isn’t about being Out There. It’s about finding out that what’s In Here is more than equal to what’s Out There. Even if my feet hurt.