Recently, at 6 AM one morning, I briefly stirred, looked at the clock to note the time, had one fleeting thought, smiled, and promptly fell back asleep for two more hours. Here was that thought:
“Twenty four hours ago I was rounding third on a team effort of 15 people moving a telephone pole 2.6 miles. I’m so glad that’s donezzzzzzz”
A telephone pole 2.6 miles? Yes, that actually happened. But not before I was fireman carried for several miles, did a variety of military maneuvers and was fully submerged in Baltimore’s inner harbor, y’all (take a moment to google “bacteria load in Baltimore’s inner harbor”, never mind I’ll do it for you, and I’ll see you back here after you gag back down your last meal). And all that was before we went on to do more military maneuvering, dawn PT that brought my only actual tears of the experience, more maneuvering, ending with finally collapsing back at our starting point at 7:30AM, roughly 9.5 hours after we set off. All this with a rucksack containing the four required bricks plus any clothing/food/water that might be needed strapped to my back at any time I wasn’t strapped to someone else’s back.
Which now that you have, of course begs the obvious question of why? Why, why, why, why, why, why? Why and, oh, why?
Such a good question.
Traditionally, this would be the type of event I would avoid quite enthusiastically. Granted, I might ooh and ahh over it online, daydream about the sense of accomplishment I might have upon completion, and talk about how I’d totally do it if only this or that weren’t preventing me. But rest assured, I would always have a convenient excuse to help me sleep like a baby at night.
So then even more pointedly, why?
I cannot answer that question for the others in my class, but I wager that baring all out stupidity or insanity (and surely there were a few there that probably fell within those camps), each person arrived with some specific reason. Some reason deep down inside as to why each individual handed over actual dollars for the opportunity to submit to the unknown. To have our bodies and minds deprived of sleep and subjected to the elements, as a part of this hard to explain thing that no one wins ‘cos it’s not a race, it’s just this thing you kind of do.
Again, now a tad impatiently, why??
Well, simply put, friend, catharsis takes many strange forms, and I thought this might give me a dose of some. And of course I am headed into dead sister territory, as, come on people, that is what I do on this blog. I have firmly typecast myself as the depressing family tragedy girl, and writing about anything different might just be akin to Screech Powers showing up as the next James Bond, which would not be inherently bad, but why mess with a formula that works.
Catharsis. The purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
Catharsis. The purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through broad jump burpees in sand, soaking wet on a midnight in November with roughly 30 lbs strapped to your back.
Pot-AY-to, Pot-AH-to, people, Pot-AY-to, Pot-AH-to.
This challenge represents all of the things I do not like to do. It starts at 10:00 PM and goes through the night – I am not a night owl. It is a distance event, setting the expectation of up to 20 miles – the furthest I’ve ever moved my body in one session is 7.2. It threatens you with the elements of not only cold but wet cold – hate, hate, hate. In short, it is the event crafted almost eerily to a T of all of the things I would not willingly do if given any choice in the matter, except that this time I did. This time I looked discomfort and pain, not to mention the beast who lives on my shoulders, square in the eyes, and said, “This time around it’s ME choosing YOU.”
Last year at this time, we were in the thick of the storm. We had been plucked from everyday life and transported to an alternate existence where everything was bad and scary and terrible. We were living in this world but were not among it – it is impossible to describe adequately the feeling of seeing the rest of the world move at a normal pace as though you are watching it through a window from inside your bubble of slow moving awful. Specifically speaking, the day of the challenge was the one year anniversary of the day I rushed back from a North Carolina wedding, as things were going from serious to very serious indeed.
In the time since then, we’ve slowly returned to the world, but life has forever changed, and even in the happiest moments it has taken on the laborious quality of walking through thick mud. Some say this will fade over time, some say it will not, who the hell knows? Bottom line, it’s crap.
That being said, one would think that I would devote time to balancing said crap by pursuing pleasurable activities, things that might distract me or cheer me up. Not willingly dunking myself in polluted water and then running around crime-infested areas of my city in the middle of a forty degree night with thirty-ish pounds strapped to my back. One might think I’d try to do the exact opposite of all that.
Well as it turns out, catharsis is much more effective for me than distraction – distraction is fleeting and typically leaves me feeling worse in the end. True, my nails look great, but I’m still sad and now $50 poorer. Which makes me even sadder, although if you think for even one moment I don’t have perfectly groomed nails, then you clearly don’t know me well.
Just because it might not get me anywhere mentally is not a reason to abandon personal grooming standards, thankyouverymuch.
Ok, well then one might suggest I accomplish some catharsis by starting in on all those do-gooder activities about which I wrote months ago with the best of intentions. Run for charity, visit a patient, for the love of God, host a bake sale and donate the money. One might be looking pointedly at how many months have ticked by on the calendar, hands on hips, saying, “Don’t you think it’s about time you get on that? After all, no one with a blood cancer benefited from your little twilight romp around Charm City.”
OK, one, you’re starting to get on my nerves.
And here is where I will admit that I’m still not at all ready for that kind of do-goodery. To date all do-goodering has been focused on the internal staff of my sister’s family: throwing children’s birthday parties, making halloween costumes, helping navigate (sigh) junior high school, locating and securing our own Mrs. Doubtfire, things of this nature. Things that must be done and can be done without stopping to think too much about why I’m the one having to do them.
However, attempts to move this circle of altruism to a broader reach has has still been the epic failure that it was all those months ago. Not only have I have been unable to become a champion for leukemia research, I have not been able to muster the internal strength to do one single thing that might result in a sliver of positivity for humanity, indicating that perhaps the slightest bit of good has come out of all of this. I couldn’t even show my face at the Leukemia walk a few months back – simply put, I just wasn’t brave enough to go.
But completing the Go Ruck was a firm step in the right direction. And if by now you haven’t lost interest in this topic altogether, you must be slightly curious as to my logic, so allow me to explain. October 26, 2011 marked the starting point when the floodgates opened, when everything became hard and absolutely none of it was our choice. We’ve had control over none of it; it has simply happened. So when when I heard about all of the things the Go Ruck entailed, full of discomforts seemingly handcrafted for me, in a very bizarro logic it seemed perfect. Here is something I will hate throughly, but I will be able to complete it, and it will have been 100% my choice. What better way to contrast the involuntary awfulness of last year with conquering some entirely voluntary awfulness exactly 365 days later?
And conquer it I did, despite many moments of ugliness, of wanting to quit, heck of not even wanting to show up in the first place. As I pushed a fifty pound sandbag up Federal Hill from a low crawl position with thirty pounds strapped to my back, I thought of my sister. As I was fireman’s carried for two hours while soaking wet in forty degree weather, I thought of her lack of choice. As just past day break I crab walked up a flight of stairs with my ruck strapped to my front, I thought of her, and I thought of all of us, and in the process a tiny sliver of the mental pain transformed into physical pain, and then whatdoyouknowit, it evaporated up into thin air.
The internal shift is palatable. After a year and change of having little choice but to undertake that which is thrown at my feet, deliberately charging into something brutal with fists swinging and coming out successful is soul cleansing. Before all this I used to subconsciously assume I could do anything. Then I consciously feared the opposite. Now, who really knows, but at least I did this.
ps: I would be remiss if I did not extend a hearty shout out to my GoRuck companion, K, who claimed to have her own unspoken reasons for signing up (which I don’t doubt), but as best I can tell is just generally a bad ass and good friend. I am in awe.