Is it just me, or are the shorter days feeling a little…long these days? As the smoky curtain of powerlessness hangs heavy over all of us, hope feels like a far-off dream. Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were” seems to play in the background of all of my conversations with friends, with nothing new to report to them from my non-existent personal life aside from my potty-training child having an accident on the floor for the umpteenth time, making me an expert at cleaning smells with baking soda—riveting stuff. Nothing seems to be pointing us toward any real, concrete answers on much of anything. We talk about news, we wonder and we dream, and the endless feeling weighs heavy not long after the phone call is over.
Yesterday, I was pounding out my daily garage treadmill workout, the most challenging of the week: repeats at a pace of five minutes and forty seconds per mile–six of them. This was uncharted territory for me. As I pressed through the first one, focused mainly on not falling on my face or having a heart attack, I caught myself thinking, “This is the first of six? How will I ever even do one more of these?” This is a place I have been many times before in the last two years of training. Hopelessness and self-defeat when the drudgery of the “first of many” scares me so badly that I want desperately to give up.
Remember back to the middle of March, when most people were acting as if the shelter-in-place order was a megaphone yelling at us to mob grocery stores and grab as much of everything as humanly possible? That fear, that unknown—how would we persevere? Of course, initially the date of May 1st had us all clinging to hope for a short while. We could at least last until then, right?
As I circled my van (part of my two-minute break ritual), I hyped myself up for the next repetition. It was only few minutes, I told myself, as I always do. Anyone can do anything for just a few minutes. There is a beginning. There is an end. And there is the human spirit. I hopped back on, told myself I was strong, and I hung on for dear life as my legs circled and the belt hummed beneath my feet.
The closer it got to the end of April, the more people realized that this shelter-in-place order was not going away. The children got noisier, the available outdoor spaces began to feel monotonous, and the indulgences of the first month began to turn dull and meaningless. Zoom calls with friends became fewer, and family routines shifted. Life became something different. There was still hope in the hearts of many. Perhaps it would only be for a few more months. We could get through it.
By my last repetition, I had spent an exorbitant amount of physical and mental energy. However, there was absolutely no question about whether I would complete the task. Why? The simple fact that the final destination was close. And known. It is not easy, but possible to complete even nearly inconceivable feats when the end is actually in front of you.
As I was running my final mile, the question came to me that if I had had no way of knowing what the workout was going to be and a light flashed to tell me “again” each time, would I have made it through the six repetitions or would I have given up? And then the story of Florence Chadwick came to my mind…
California native Florence Chadwick was famed for being the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. But what struck me far more than that accomplishment was a story that was shared with me many years back:
Chadwick made an attempt to swim between the California shoreline and Catalina Island. A thick fog set in fifteen hours into Chadwick’s excursion, and she was thus unable to see anything in front of her. Exhausted and seeing no end to her journey, she got into the boat that was traveling alongside her and gave up the attempt, only to find out that she was merely one mile from shore.
A beautiful discovery, upon further examination of Chadwick’s accomplishments, was the story of her returning to those waters to attempt that very same journey once again. The next time, same as the last, a fog set in; thick and impossible to see through. The difference was, as Chadwick visualized the shore, she was able to press on through the unknown to reach her destination.
Chadwick’s story carries great power. We can get through hard things. The fog that hovers and blinds us may not settle. But, eventually we will all make it out on the other side of this hard time in history. We will have “real lives” to talk about with family and friends. Though the end point’s unknown, we will endure—as long as we continue to visualize the shore.