A New Lesson From the Fringes of my Comfort Zone

Submitted by Nancy

"Beyond any illness, addiction, or loss there exists the possibility of redemption, the opportunity for a full, rich life that moves beyond mere survival. In the midst of fighting a disease, recovering from dependency, or going forward after tragedy and loss, we honor ourselves and our loved ones by becoming warriors on behalf of our own lives. There are times when grace falls from heaven unbidden, but we must not wait for heaven. We must learn to become partners in our own grace."

"There is no happy ending. But there is the day. The sun, the rain. The chance to say I love you. The willingness to forgive. The courage to remember. The opportunity to be kind. The ability to laugh and to be generous. The fact that we can choose our joy in each moment, no matter what. This, in itself, is the miracle."

Heather Summerhayes Cariou, Sixtyfive Roses

What do you base your life on?

Over the past three years, what has made me feel good about myself is hiking -- reaching summit after summit and all that goes with that - the sweat, intoxicating exercise, feeling strong in my body, the exhilarating exhaustion, and the deep connection I make with myself on the mountain and when I write about it afterwards. Hiking is helping me understand who I am outside of my comfort zone, who I am after 12 miles on the trail in the dark, who I am on a steep slide with little to hold onto, who I am standing in the middle of forever views.

Pat and I are injured and have not hiked since January. I pulled my calf muscle and it seems to be taking forever to heal and Pat may have torn a tendon in her ankle. And all that made me feel good is gone. Where did the grace wave go? What is left in its place? How do you feel good about yourself if you have lost the stuff that you relied on to make you feel good?

Just as there was something for me to learn on a slippery mountainside out of my comfort zone, there is something for me to learn sitting on the couch, massaging my calf, thinking about Pat and her swollen ankle.

We play the hand we are dealt, always, that is all we have. How we play the game is up to us.

Not exercising puts me out of my comfort zone. I don't have that to rely on to make me feel good about myself, to convince me that my day has been worthwhile. It makes me realize that I'm basing whether I feel good about myself on what I do.

But it's not about what I do, it's about who I am.

So, maybe I need to take another look at not what I do, but who I am when I am doing it. I don't lose my courage sitting on the couch massaging my calf. It's still there - it's in me. It's who I am. My muscles may lose some of their strength as I recover, but the determination to get strong isn't gone - that's in me.

On the mountain, the views, the spring wildflowers, the rime ice, it all catches in my chest. I feel it inside me. That ability to be moved by the natural world is in me. I don't have to be on a mountain to recognize beauty.

My love of sharing my joy while on the trail - that's in me too. Hiking helped me discover it, but its not trail dependent. I have learned that people want to share in your life - not in the amazing things you do, but in what touches you, what makes you vulnerable, the stuff that makes your breath snag. I don't have to be on the trail to share who I am. My ability to do that is in me.

So - I can choose to lament that I can't do what makes me feel good and spend my healing time feeling sorry for myself, being a victim, or I can use this new experience of being outside of my comfort zone as a learning experience.

Who is Nancy wanting to hike like crazy, sitting on the couch with a pulled muscle? Do I face this with the same courage and determination that I face the ice-covered slopes? Do I deal with the fact that I can't exercise with the same grace and humor I deal with my fears on the mountains? Can I share with others how vulnerable I feel when I'm not the strong Nancy climbing a mountain? Who am I when I'm not sweating, not doing, not climbing? I'm still Nancy.

It reminds me of the picture of me when I weighted 200 pounds. People look at it and say - I'm a different person in the picture. But I wasn't. I was still Nancy, same heart, same courage, same determination.

My sadness and shame when I weighed 200 pounds felt barely tolerable. Today my inability to exercise feels terrible. I want to run and hike and spin and sweat and I can't. But my struggle is minor. My husband just had knee surgery and is struggling to get his strength back. Linda's husband died a few weeks ago - they had been married for 48 years. Kylie's 23-year-old sister died Friday. Kip has a brain tumor. A friend has breast cancer and has just finished radiation and chemotherapy. Pat has a torn tendon and on top of that is vomiting this morning, in the ER at Monadnock Community Hospital. My Dad has Alzheimer's and can no longer easily communicate. My daughter's fiance leaves for Iraq for his second stint in a month or so. My natural mother, who I have only known as an adult, has Alzheimer's and is not doing well. How do we find the "I feel good about myself, I'm OK now," amid all this terrible, gut-wrenching, heartbreak?

I am holding Don, Pat, Kylie and her family, Kip and his family, my Dad, my natural mother and my sisters, my friend, my daughter and her fiance, me when I weighed 200 pounds, and me with a pulled calf muscle in my heart. That's all I can do.

Even off the mountain, life provides plenty of opportunities to discover who I am outside of my comfort zone. When I'm scared on the mountain, or cold, or dead tired, I have learned to stay with myself, to not abandon me. I check in and realize that I am still okay. I stay with me and continue on, taking one step at a time, holding my fear. Maybe it is the same off the mountain.

Maybe the key is to hold all of the terrible in my heart and still continue on despite the despair, sadness and frustration. To not build protective walls around me to lock myself away, or get cynical or spiral down into the pit myself, but to hold all of this openly. To let the tears be there and still know I am okay. Perhaps I haven't lost my strength at all; perhaps that is what is holding me open in the midst of the terrible.

And maybe being able to do that is riding the grace wave. I don't have to be doing what makes me feel good, to be good. I don't have to be doing what makes me feel strong, to be strong. I don't have to be climbing mountains to be on the grace wave. I just have to be standing, arms stretched open, heart to the sun, welcoming in each moment, feeling it as it comes -- the grief, fear, anger, pain, joy -- knowing I am okay. Knowing I can still love. That is the grace wave.

What do I base my life on? My adventures? My hikes? My life's work? Or my heart and what I have found inside...