My parents have a few stories they like to tell about me from when I was younger and, arguably, much wiser. Of course, I think this is true of just about anyone, but there is one particular story that seems to be my dad’s favorite, and during these months of winter training, it bears striking relevance to my current stage of life.
I will start by saying that when I was a youngster, backpacking was a big part of my family’s summer routine. I came to appreciate the getaways, not just for the experiences themselves, which were a blast, but also for the perspective they gave on coming back home. I learned that, after a weekend of backpacking, I would want to be home again, then after a weekend of being home, I wanted to be back out in the woods. Fortunately, we lived next to a wildlife refuge, so the woods weren’t far…
One particular excursion – I must have been around 9 or 10 by my estimation – took place on a wonderful weekend in August. For the majority of the trip, the weather was wonderful; the high elevation kept the heat at bay, but it wasn’t too cold either. I recall the first patch of snow we came across as we climbed into the mountains, and my sister and I were so excited to see snow in August, we immediately started making snowballs and throwing them at each other.
However, on the last day, after we made preparations to hike out, a storm rolled in, and it began dumping rain and groppel. We got the ponchos out and hiked in them, but it was still cold. Our extremities became numb, and the only thing to do was put our heads down and hike faster, getting to the car – and subsequent warmth and dryness – as quickly as possible. Of course, as the big brother in the family, I felt it necessary to keep my cool and act perfectly fine with the whole situation, at least to the best of my ability. I trudged along with my head down, charging solemnly through the elements. It was then that I turned to my dad and uttered one of the more well-known Jesse-isms of the era:
“I can’t believe I can pretend I don’t mind this.”
Anyone who has read their share of Calvin and Hobbes (if you haven’t, do it now) knows all about how being miserable builds character, and I knew it just as well as the next guy. I’m not sure that I really knew what character was, but by golly, I was going to have more of it than anyone, and that made this whole experience worth it!
Somehow, whether it’s true or not, I had the idea that if I could keep control of the misery, not let it bog me down, I could withstand more of it and therefore build more character. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still think that. Every time I get up at 5:00 in the morning for a run in the snow when it’s zero degrees and pitch dark outside, I think back to the fact that, yes, I can pretend I don’t mind it, and yes, if I try hard enough, I’ll convince myself that, you know what, it’s not really that miserable after all. I mean, it could always be colder, and there could always be more snow, and a lot of people have been a whole lot more miserable throughout history, whether it was their own choice or not.
To finish my story, though, eventually I did decide I had built enough character for one weekend, and since I always hiked faster than the rest of the family, I convinced my mom to give me the car keys and sped ahead to get in the car and get warm and dry. Sadly, when I got there, my hands were so numb that I couldn’t unlock the doors, and I ended up sitting by the car and waiting anyway. I guess there was some character left to be built or something, and fate didn’t want me to be warm and dry quite yet.
Well, it’s 4 o’clock, I’m going to head out for a run. I’ll leave you with this little bit of genius from the legendary Bill Watterson: