Yesterday I was out for a hike with my friend Jayne. We ended up going off the blazed trail, as we sometimes do. I know you’re never supposed to leave the trail, but we’re in New Jersey. We can hear traffic in the distance, so we can’t get lost. (spoiler) Blair Witch wasn’t real.
We came across an unmarked path and we saw a few small wooden bridges and ramps that someone had made, presumably for bmx or mountain bikes. I stepped up onto one of them to take a good look. It was made of 2 inch slats of wood placed an inch apart. It was ~12 inches wide. It was nailed into a curvy felled tree trunk. It rose up and came back down, and like a roller coaster track with curves, it tilted to one side, then the other. At the highest point in the center it was ~4 feet off the ground and propped up by a few thick branches.
My inner child wanted to run across it at full force while making some sort of engine noises. My outer adult was trepidatious— to put it mildly.
As I took the first step onto the wooden slats I was testing the structure, getting the feel of it under my feet. It seemed solid enough. ‘I’m pretty sure I can do it,’ I said. ‘I think I trust the engineering… But I don’t know if I trust myself.’
The second step was about testing out my self. Activating core muscles. Engaging and drawing everything in to the center and up. Checking my frame of mind. I thought I could trust my balance. My core. What about my courage? Would I end up standing at the highest point, paralyzed with fear, unable to move?
The third step was about commitment. This was the moment where I had to decide if I would continue moving forward or step back, and jump down. If I took that step forward I’d have no choice but to cross the entire ramp. It was too narrow for me to maneuver an about face. I could continue forward or walk backwards, blind.
At that moment, I felt so very heavy. I’ve been carrying extra weight around with me, both literally and figuratively. I know how to deal with the pounds. Muscle engagement. Shift the center of gravity. Accommodate.
But the figurative weight can render me immobile. First, my feet become cement blocks. Too heavy to lift off the ground. Then my heart sinks to the depths of me. Too heavy to find the joy in the moment, or even the purpose. Then my head. Heavily fixed against any movement at all. It is the weight of the pandemic. The weight of the past 18 months. Loss after loss. Grief piled upon grief. Sadness, upon sadness, upon sadness.
I rocked forward on my right foot, back on my left. Which way would I go. I had no idea.
‘Oh, so you’re doing it?’ Jayne asked.
‘I don’t know. Am I?’
And then I was. Slowly, cautiously. A part of me, a deep down quiet part, knowing I would be just fine. A louder part of me, closer to the surface, wondering why the hell I was even outside of my house at all.
Just a small ramp. But this ramp is also every single thing I do in my life, right now. Every interaction I initiate. Every phone call I make. Every word I write. Every step I take out of my house. Slow, cautious steps, on a ramp too small for comfort. Unsure of my footing. Carrying a seemingly infinite amount of extra weight.
This is life. This is pandemic living. This is more than languishing. This is PTSD. This is functional depression.
When I made it most of the way across the ramp, I felt a bit of the weight lift off of me. I picked up my pace just a little. And as I jumped off at the end, I let out a loud whoop! whoop! of satisfaction. Accomplished.
Every little step is a huge accomplishment these days. For so many of us.
We just have to keep moving forward, slowly, cautiously, hoping that the end will eventually be in sight, and things will get a little lighter.