It's All About the Climb
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
As many of you know, I have been out of town all week, trying to help my oldest, dearest, “bestest” friend deal with a loss so unimaginable that it brought everyone who loves her (and even perfect strangers) down on our knees. For me, it was the knock out punch in a series of one-two hits at the end of 2019 that had me fighting hard to climb up out of a sadness unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Sadness for her, sadness for me, sadness that I couldn’t help her in any way that really mattered, sadness that everything I tried to do right lately was going horribly wrong, and sadness for humanity in general. There were days I couldn’t get up off of my sofa, days I couldn’t stop crying, days I just went through the motions, and days where I was REALLY angry about a lot of things. Eventually, however, I did start to climb, clawing and scratching my way out of the helplessness and taking hard looks at what mattered, what deserved my attention, what didn’t, and what I COULD do—which, I decided, was to simply be present for my friend.
This friend has been my ride-or-die for the past 41 years and together we have weathered storms and danced in the rain. We have screamed, laughed and cried---sometimes all at once. We played in imaginary worlds as children, suffered each others angst and dramas as teens, stood up for and alongside each other as young adults, and raised our families together as grown women. We’ve shared our deepest secrets, biggest fears, and greatest achievements. We have seen each other at our best and our worst because we have one of those rare relationships built on absolute trust and unconditional love—nothing we can do or say will result in rejection or abandonment. It’s a friendship that is just that special, and we’ve both protected it fiercely nearly our entire lives. Being unable to “fix” things for her has been almost unbearable.
We’ve spent a lot of time going on long walks this week, breathing in the cold air, watching the birds soar, and listening to the water as it flows through the creek beds. The path we take is hilly, and there is one particularly steep hill on our path that she finds challenging. Some days she walks halfway up and turns around—some days she avoids it altogether and goes a different direction. On one afternoon, we got halfway up and she suddenly looked at me, her big blue/gray eyes watery and said, “I can’t do this today.” I held her hand and quietly told her to match her breathing to mine and just put one foot in front of the other.
Along the way, as a form of distraction, I told her what I love about hills and the challenge they represent. And then, because I didn’t know what else to do, I began telling her some of the ways I coach my riders through a tough hill in a cycle class:
Close your eyes and feel your heart beat. Focus on your breath and take it one pedal stroke at a time. You will want to turn around—don’t. Push through. Hit override. Cry, yell, curse if you want to—but keep climbing. Feel everything—there are no shortcuts. You will find out what you are made of. You will struggle. You will survive. And when you get to the top, you will realize that even though it was hard as hell, you did it. And you can do it again. And again. And again. And then one day that hill you never thought you could ever climb will feel more like a bump in the road, not because it got easier---but because you got stronger. But it takes time and it takes practice and it takes being gentle with yourself along the way.
We kept on like this, hand-in-hand like when we were kids until we made it up the hill. And, the next time we went out on our walk, she didn’t need my help to make it. She pushed through, a little weary, a little winded, but She. Pushed. Through. And my heart was happy for the first time in a long while.
The way we handle hills is such a metaphor for life. I constantly preach in my classes, “if you want to get stronger out there, it starts in here.” Everyone’s hills look different but whatever the struggle, whatever the challenge, whatever your personal hill looks like—just keep moving forward, slow and steady, not looking back, not looking ahead, just focusing on each step until you get to the top.
There is a Miley Cyrus song I love called “The Climb.” To paraphrase one of my favorite verses: when the struggles you face threaten to break you, you have to be strong and keep pushing on because it ain’t about how fast you get there…. it is all about the climb…