One inescapable aspect of our human experience is that at some point in time, we experience weakness. No matter how strong you think you are, there comes a time when it is not enough. If you walk long enough, you will eventually stumble and fall; if you are fortunate, you will be able to get back up again. The first time I fell this past Tuesday, I pulled a quadricep.
I was out on a field trip with the local BLUE Missionsteam here in the Dominican Republic. The task for the day was to plot the route of a future aqueduct that, once completed, would provide nearly 400 families with water. Essentially, we needed to trek to the clean water source and then hike back out, measuring the distance as we went. I hope to never complain about a switchback trail again, because I can say definitively that the alternative of simply traversing steep inclines is far more grueling, especially when instead of a well-maintained path you have loose and uneven soil underfoot. Question for Fitbit: does time spent scrambling uphill on all fours count toward your 10,000 steps?
I didn’t quite fall all the way when I pulled my quad, because I caught myself on a tree branch. I guess it was more of a slide downhill—although the net elevation gain was to be 100 meters, there were many ups and downs along the way. This incident occurred early enough for me to seriously consider turning back. After all, I knew the team didn’t actually need me for this job, and would I be able to go on for long if I was already injured?
Thankfully, the pulled muscle worked itself out as we walked, but the hike was much more grueling for me than I think it would have been ten or fifteen years ago. So either: a) I am not as strong a hiker as I was back then; b) I was never as strong a hiker as I imagine I was; c) it was an objectively more difficult walk than I had inferred from satellite imaging. I’m pretty sure that both a) and c) are true… it would be nice if b) weren’t.
So I walked, I crawled, I climbed, I slid, I fell. Most of the times, I landed on soft soil. As I write this I have only two significant bruises coming up on my right waist and elbow. I have lots of minor cuts and scratches on my hands, most of which probably came from various plants I clung to for support.
I pushed myself hard. There was a while where I thought I was going to be sick, but I was able to take a breather and carry on uphill. If I had all the time in the world, I’d like to think I would have made it to the water source and been able to take the spectacular photograph below. Instead, I met most of the group when I was almost there and they were returning. I am beginning to learn that while many things that seem easy for my Dominican counterparts are difficult for me, if something is difficult for them, it cold very well be beyond me. The same hike that I was struggling through with worn out hiking boots though, a couple local youths were making while wearing shower slippers.
Even though I didn’t make it all the way there and needed to take a short cut coming back, it was still an accomplishment. First, for finding where my limits started, and then, for continuing to push far enough for them to push back hard. When we were coming back downhill there was a point at which we came back to the main road and stopped for a lunch break. I was encouraged to go with the truck to the bottom of the hill, and wait there, but I stubbornly found the resolve to do the final leg with the group even though I hadn’t been able to keep up early on.
This is not a story about personal triumph though, but acknowledging weakness. The only reason I was eventually able to succeed was because of those who offered me help and accompanied me on the way. Several people literally offered a hand to help me up steep inclines, which I had to accept once. A few stayed back with me when my pace slackened and took me on a less arduous route. One person made me a walking stick. Two shared wild fruit with me that they found in the trees. Even when I was separated from the group, I knew I was never alone. If weakness allowed me to experience this concern, what a blessing it was. If acknowledging weakness without shame allowed me to find the next necessary wave of strength, may I carry the lesson forward for years to come.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week are closely linked to each other and to this blog post as they both reflect aspects of interdependence. The song chosen is a Gospel number that proclaims we cannot make it alone. The op-ed by David Brooks details a community strategy to bring people from different backgrounds together to support children growing up.
Ear Candy: “Never Would’ve Made It” by Marvin Sapp
Brain Food: “A Really Good Thing Happening in America” by David Brooks