Oh, Sugar...
The Peace of Wild Things

Running Uphill

To start, I have to first tell one of my most embarrassing moments. (Not THE most embarrassing one, though...that's a toss up between the skirt-losing experience at the Erasure concert and the dog poop on my shoes in Mr. Heelis' 8th-grade Spanish class.) This happened to me two years ago. It was March; I was out running, at about 5:30 in the afternoon. I was running down the hill that's closest to my house, which happens to end at an intersection that's very rarely busy...except at rush hour. So, I'm running down this hill. I'm feeling on---breathing well, muscles happy, mind at peace. A good run. And then---out of nowhere, and upon nothing larger than a little pebble, I twist my left ankle. And go down HARD on my right knee. Lightning-fast (yay for all those years of gymnastics, because in addition to years of body-image issues and a particular brand of loneliness, they did give me a lingering supply of quick reflexes!) I caught myself with my hands and staggered to my feet. Mind you---I did this right at the bottom of the hill. Right at the intersection. With at least twenty cars waiting to turn left and at least getting some entertainment during their evening commute.

I limped home, with blood dripping from my knee and my ankle throbbing. Apparently non-life-threatening and entirely-embarrassing wounds channel my inner Disney, because as I climbed back up the hill, I started humming to myself. I mean, really, it was all I could do to keep myself from crying (and thus adding to my embarrassment): hum that little ditty from Finding Nemo. Except mine said "just keep walking, just keep walking, what do we do? We walk!" and with that I made it home. Four enormous puncture wounds later...I survived.

But I never run down a hill without thinking of my fall. It's made me, dare I say it, a little fearful of running downhill. Which matches my previous preferences: I'd much rather run up a hill than down one. Seriously---I've actually driven to different parts of the surrounding fifteen miles or so, just so I could run up a specific hill. I totally, totally dig the uphill thing. I like how your muscles are truly engaged, how they start to quiver a bit, and how your lungs work harder and harder with the exertion. I like the feeling of looking up, when I'm about halfway to the top, and not being sure if I'll make it---and saying out loud to myself "keep going; you can do it." And o, how I love the small-but-not-insignificant triumph when I reach the top.

Today, I ran a particularly steep hill that I've not done in nearly two years. As I approached it, I found myself making a rather obvious metaphor about this little quirk of mine. Is my love of going uphill and my corresponding fear of going downhill comparable to a sort of masochism...like a physical action that proves I am happiest when life, figuratively, is difficult? That I prefer life's hard times to its easy times? I think not. Like anyone, I try to do everything I can to keep life running smoothly. I'm always glad when a difficult patch is finally worked out.

But it hit me as I approached the start of that hill this morning---the hill that is so steep that as you start down it, all you can see is the road falling away, rather like that first fall of a roller coaster: The easy times in life scare me, too. Because without the resistance of going uphill, if you fall it hurts more. You've got a longer way to fall and nothing to stop you. Carefully navigating down the blessedly shady hill, I had an aha-ha moment that has nothing to do with running: In a way, I am more peaceful when life is difficult. If it's hard, at least you're not worrying about when things will take a turn for the worse. Which sounds awfully pessimistic of me. OK then, I'll confess to a bit of pessimism. If it is pessimistic to be a realist. Because life has taught me that the downhill parts---the times when life is relatively free of burdens, challenges, and difficulties---don't last long.

But right now, that's where my life is: running downhill. Passing by with relative ease. And while it's good---it is so good---it is also terrifying. Because what, I can't help but wonder, will trip me up next? How much will it hurt when I hit the ground? And will I be able to struggle to the top of the next metaphorical hill?

About halfway through that very real hill this morning, though, all thoughts of metaphorical hills and life's struggles and fear of falling vanished from my thoughts. All I could think was this: keep going, keep going. The muscle pain and the catch in your lungs is so worth it. This is a good struggle. Keep going. I remembered that I am stronger than I had thought. And I made it to the top.

But maybe it meant more than I had made it to the bottom without falling. Maybe I need to keep that knowledge of my strength closer to me---the strength I have built from surviving the uphills---and let it vanquish my fear of falling. Maybe if I keep on running downhill, even though it terrifies me, I will be able to stop being afraid of what might be coming and instead appreciate the swiftness of my feet, the greenness of the trees as they flash by, the way my lungs don't have to work as hard. To run hills not just for the hard, but for the good, too.

Comments

Molly

What an amazing analogy. Awesome perspective and so so so true!

Gwyn

I can no longer run distance, but when I did, I loved the hills--up and down. I'm not sure why, but you've given me food for thought.

These days, I am devoting my attention to yoga, and I struggle with some of the poses, like half moon. The pose supposedly challenges one's fear of falling while being completely open; much like your hill running. Hmm.

Sophia

Amy, as always, your depth of perspection is incredible. This is a keeper. Should be a talk in church. Seriously. Love you!

Love, Me

Sheila

First thing I have to say is OUCH! What a fall. Secondly, I totally agree with your analogy. I know that when my life is a challenge that I feel closer to God and more at peace with what I'm going through. When life is smooth sailing it's easy to forget about God and to stumble. Great story!

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