It’s been a reflective time for me. Maybe for you, too. Today, I have a few personal stories that added up to one realization.
On a backpacking trip in the 1990s, my (then) boyfriend and I stopped at a beautiful overlook for lunch. It was one of those beautiful hot September afternoons and we sat at a creek crossing looking out over the valley below. Just behind us and uphill was an ice tunnel that had formed over the creek. It was tall enough to walk into, but we loved it because of the cool breeze coming out of it.
As we gazed out over the view, two women came up into sight and waved as they followed the trail behind us and out of our frame of view. Several moments later, a huge thunderous crack jolted us out of our spots, and we turned around to see that ice cave collapsing. One of the women was standing at the trail, watching it incredulously. It felt like a Steven Spielberg movie. It was that loud and that huge and even slow motion. When it all settled down, we looked at each other, kind of like Bill and Ted. WHOA!
That’s when the incredulous woman pointed at the now pile of icebergs and said, “My friend is in there.”
Everything changed in the flash of a moment. Greg jumped into action. I’d like to say I did as well, but I was frozen with shock and asked what I should do. Greg instructed me to run for help. Perfect. I have a job. I jumped into action. Never mind that we were about three miles in (which isn’t that bad), but I had a 40-pound pack on my back. (Hey, give me a break. It was the 90s, before the super-light equipment!)
I ran and sent for help. By the time I reached the bottom, I met search and rescue as they arrived at the trailhead. As we made our way back up the trail, and he radioed to the helicopter overhead. I managed to give the general topographic location, and the heli found the spot. The ending was not a happy one. The young woman did not survive.
We were devastated. I had run all out hoping to get her help quickly while also realizing it was unlikely she could survive. On the way home that evening, we stopped for a drink, and I contemplated a life snuffed out before my very eyes.
I couldn’t walk for a week afterward. It wasn’t a soreness so much as unbearable pain in my leg from having run downhill so steeply, for as long as I did with a heavy pack on my back. While I was doing it, I didn’t feel it – maybe I was fueled by adrenaline and focus. There was no time to think about what was happening. When you’re in the thick of something, you experience it one way. Afterward, the experience changes. History rewrites itself. Time does tell. And it’s often a different story.
I thought about this while on an unexpected road trip two weeks ago when my Dad was admitted to the hospital with a blood clot and fluid in his lungs. We had already been making plans to move him up to be closer with family in the Northeast, and this was our signal that “now” is the time. I found myself leaving self-quarantine and flying across the country to be in Florida upon his discharge. My brother and I quickly packed up his place and hit the road for a three-day drive up to Boston. We’d need to stop every few hours to let my Dad move around; we’d have to skip public restrooms and restaurants, so we packed a cooler, and off we went.
As we accelerated on the on-ramp of the Florida Turnpike, I could feel my tension release from all that was behind us and that we had accomplished, I looked ahead at the highway in front of us and thought about how momentous this time was. Three days – my brother, me, my dad, and his cat amid a pandemic.
What amazing things will we discuss? I wondered, how will we memorialize this time? It turns out life isn’t cinematically stunning like the independent films. Dad wasn’t feeling well, and we did just rip him away from his home of decades. He’d rather not talk a lot.
So I released my notion about how this trip should go and loosen up on expectations. And we had a good time. Bertha, the cat, entertained us. We stopped to use the natural bathrooms and got poison ivy in the process. We snuck Bertha into hotel rooms. We reminisced as we passed the South of the Border rest area we had driven by so many times when we were growing up. We pulled off and looked at the national monuments in DC and flew across the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan with no traffic.
Afterward, I realized, despite it not being the way I thought it should be, we did have a good time. It would not make for a great film, but it would make good memories.
My quarantine doesn’t have to be the things Instagram stories and independent films are made of, either. Let go of the pressure to author your next masterpiece, to fill your time with quality projects, and to have a blissful and productive isolation like so many others seem to be enjoying, (if you are lucky enough to be still employed).
When I look back on this time, I will see it very differently from the way I feel it now. I’m trying not to ruin it with ambitions and expectations.
For that matter, maybe I’ll make that a habit moving forward.
Take care out there,[ssba]