A homeless woman's hands
Back in the early 1990’s, while still in my relatively young 40’s, for some crazy reason I thought I needed to get involved in competing in Triathlons. Seemed like a good idea at the time and indeed there was a measure of fun and accomplishment associated with it…it was also a lot of hard work. Compete is hardly the correct word to use in my case…simply to finish was accomplishment enough for me and to do that required a lot of training in three athletic disciplines…swimming, bicycling, and running. The running part I knew better than the other two as up until then, I had been involved in running activities off and on since junior high school …bicycling I took up somewhat later in life…well after college and well into my 30’s, mostly for recreation, but found it enjoyable and valuable as a fitness tool. Swimming on the other hand I knew would be the most difficult activity to deal with. Oh…I could swim pretty well having been a lifeguard back in my college days, but I was never a competitive swimmer and had to learn how to train for that event the hard way through trial and error…plus…half way into an open water one kilometer swim you can’t simply stop and pull off the road…so I had to place a major emphasis on that training aspect to avoid voiding my warranty by drowning. Turns out, I really enjoyed swimming as a fitness sport more than the other two and continue doing so even today.
There was one particular race…actually it was a team event, where we had a swimmer, biker, and runner…I did the bike…where I learned what it meant to ‘hit the wall’. The bike portion of the race was 60+ miles on a hilly course…5 laps around a 12 mile loop, plus an out and back connecting portion from the staging area to the course loop that added 2 or 3 extra miles.
Seems I came down with a bad case of bronchitis a few days before the event that really took the wind out of my sails. I managed to make the race and did ok for the first 50 miles or so averaging around 20mph…then…wham! I hit the wall hard…nothing left in the tank physically, even less desire to continue…and I still had about 15 more miles to go. That was the longest and hardest 15 miles I’ve ever endured on a bike in my life. My average speed dropped from around 20 to below 15 and it was all I could do to finish. Each hill climb became a test of wills…me against gravity…and gravity won most of the time. The main reason for the wall slamming me in the face the way it did was caused by a number of factors…over-training and lack of rest, which broke me down physically and so I got sick…and lack of proper hydration and fuel replacement during the race. Although I finished my portion of the race…it was not pretty…but, I did finish…I didn’t quit even though I felt like it. The one thing that kept me going was the encouraging words of others who lined the course..and when I climbed that last hill, to hear the cheers of the fans and friends helped to push me over the top.
Oh well…the point I want to make has nothing to do really with triathlons, but about hitting the wall and how it relates to life. Sooner or later we all face circumstances that push us to the limit of our endurance…emotional, and in many cases even physical. Many times, self inflicted wounds push us to that limit, but other times circumstances beyond our control just catch up with us. Those are often the more difficult ones to deal with…you just feel disconnected and frustrated because of that lack of control. The people I’ve admired the most over the years are the ones I’ve known who have endured through very trying and difficult circumstances. None of us know for sure how we will react to adversity until we actually face that circumstance. Bravado spoken from the confines of a cushioned life carries little weight…yet humble perseverance when times are tough, speak loudly to those who witness it. It’s been said, it’s not how many times you get knocked down that matters…it how many times you get back up that counts. Facing hardship is a part of life…how you face it depends on your character.
My wife Kris and I have spent a lot of time talking to homeless people in our community…often providing donated blankets during the colder months to those who need them. We’ve seen where self-inflicted or even worse, family inflicted wounds have all but destroyed some of them…they for the most part have given up and turn to alcohol and/or drugs. You can see it in their eyes. Many are victims of circumstances. Even so, we have also seen a great deal of resilience in many of them. Even under difficult circumstances, they have retained their sense of humor and dignity. Many of them keep hitting the wall over and over… continually getting knocked down…but more importantly, they get up again and again and carry on. I’ve learned a lot about character and facing difficulties by simply listening to these people. They amaze me with their stories. Not so oddly, the one thing they crave most is to be touched…to shake someone’s hand…to receive and give back a hug…have someone acknowledge that their life has meaning and they are still relevant and important...not just in God’s eyes, but in our eyes.
Most of us have never really known what it’s like to hit the wall in real life…to run out of options…to have nothing left in the tank. Taking the time to listen to someone who truly has…well, it can’t help but make me wonder how I would react if I truly found myself in that circumstance. My meaningless ordeal of hitting the wall during that race was nothing more than a bad case of planning and fatigue...I knew all I had to do was stop, and it would all end. Not so, for many of these homeless people...they can't just stop and expect it all to go away.
The winter season is not all that far away and I challenge you who read this to step away from your comfort zone for a while...talk to someone who may be down and out...homeless or otherwise. Reach out your hand...offer a hug...give them a blanket or a meal...but most of all, give them part of yourself, because that is what they need as much as anything else...It is amazing how a simple act of kindness will lift the spirits of someone whose spirit may have hit the wall...doing so will not only help to carry them a little further, you just may discover that your own spirit is lifted as well.
Keith is an outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman, owner of a green canoe, photographer and has put up with his squirrly wife for 30 years. A computer programmer by day, photographer all the rest of the hours of the day and week-ends, and handy man extraordinaire around the house. He is the father of our two sons and the most wonderful helper, protector and provider this woman could ever have. I am blessed!
Keith has a wonderful photography blog, please go check him out. You won't be disappointed.