I am the oldest child of an oldest child. Raised to be strong, independent, self-reliant, thoughtful, and always looking out for others. The needs of those younger and less capable to be attended to before my own because I am capable and responsible and mature. Over time this has helped me be able to organize and direct groups, anticipate needs, and attend to whatever considerations others may have getting through a situation. I am an able problem-solver, often thinking out-of-the-box and often three to four steps ahead. Life is good when I’m in charge because I know what to do and when, my role, my responsibilities, my really ought-tos. However, put me in a situation where I am not in charge and I flail and kick and cause myself a fine ruckus.
Case in point: yesterday’s hike. A great group of people, half known to me, half new folks. We set out headed for the coast with plans for a hike up a peak that I had actually climbed about five years earlier. I was excited! To be out in the fresh air filled with ocean taste and ocean fragrance. The ocean fills me, lifting my spirits, connecting me to the earth with solid grasp and firm purchase.
The way up the mountain was beautiful and as we got high enough to see the coast stretch out before us, we then were enveloped in old forest with a wondrous towering canopy. Lots of switchbacks and a path strewn with a jumble of tree roots and stone, causing each hiker to think about each step, planting foot and trekking pole with careful consideration. Not as much talking as some hikes as we huffed and puffed through two miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain. The pinnacle was a scramble up a craggy rock face with a beautiful view of the southern beach laid carefully before us. The rain gods had found their way back to the Oregon Coast after a particularly long absence for us Oregonians. The air was filled with cool mist and wisps of fog floated by. Thankfully not completely socked in but definitely not the unusual sunny, hot days we had experienced the ten days before. Yet living in Oregon (much like the Oklahoma I grew up in) requires frequent adjustments to changing weather and unpredictable skies. As a result lunch was a quick break, just long enough to choke down a bit of food, inhale some water and pose for pictures. And back down we went.
I knew I was in trouble as I prepared to descend. I had gotten chilled and unusual for me my legs took most of the cold. I wanted to get out of the wind, again unusual for me because I love the wind pulling through my hair and caressing my cheeks. It took everything I had in me to make my way down the rocky peak top. And I had help everywhere.
Let me step back a moment. All the way up the mountain yesterday, I had been remembering the last time five years before I had climbed the same trail. Maybe you’ve already guessed that hike had been with my ex, my was-bund. At that time I thought the hike was classified as a very easy hike and I was struggling. I had just initiated a push to get outside, walking and hiking. Coming across a description of this hike I seized on it as something good for the two of us to do together. Then I was excited to be out, yet frustrated that I couldn’t keep up very well with this long-legged, six-foot companion. Never mind that I was carrying a whole lot of extra on me and I was a hiking newbie.
Yesterday as I moved over the trail, my experience of the first time crept in unexpectedly, flashing moments, flashing the remembered body sense. I recalled my frustration with myself and I recalled the ex pausing, waiting, taking off, pausing, waiting, taking off. He characteristically saying little, me chattering to distract myself. Because yesterday as I took in the flashbacks, I painfully realized that I knew even back then that he might have been physically present but he was emotionally gone, he no longer cared.
And I brought myself back into my present. And in this moment, in this time, I had with me something I didn’t have before: people who cared . . . . about me! And very specifically four guys, four very thoughtful, kind, funny, and easy-on-the-eyes guys who took it upon themselves to watch out for me, offer me thoughtful suggestions, and a hand here and there. Like my own band of Knights they surrounded me and the whole hiking group with valor, honor and humor. That in itself was enough to make me want to plop down and cry in joy! Four guys who I have barely known for two months offered me a level of kindness and support that a man I knew for 26 years had truly never shown up with. The contrast was so vivid and so real. Plus I realized that I had known that lack then and had then been yet unable to admit it to myself.
And because that’s not enough self-realization for four winding miles, the kindness of my Knights then encroached on my early training to be in charge, to take care of others, to not be dependent and certainly not accept help because it was up to me to take care of me.
As we started down the mountain, I was overloaded emotionally and my left knee was painfully not excited about the downward slope. Thank goodness for my trekking poles! But, then, without warning, I slipped, I fell, the ground met my butt. I was embarrassed. I was angry with me for my weakness. And, oh! Jeez! I was crying! And, I was looking up into the eyes of three gorgeous men all asking after me, wanting to be sure I was okay, what help did I need, telling me it was okay to cry if I needed. Oh! Lordy goodness! And my initial reaction was to pull away and insist I would be fine, I can take care of myself. But they wouldn’t have anything to do with that tripe. And in their care and their fuss, I made a choice and yielded, a tiny bit! Which in the scheme of my life was huge: I allowed help. I dried up my tears for another time, dusting off my own bottom. And I let my stubbornness relax and tried my best to accept their help, making my way down the mountain with one Knight firmly guarding my back and the others checking in intermittently.
And going down that mountain, with every step, every jolt, I had a conversation with myself about the courage I could extend to myself and to others by accepting a little help from my friends! I am not a damsel in distress forced to be less than her true self. I am simply me with the grand fortune of having good friends willing to help me when the need arises. I think from here on out, I will be able to sing a different tune!