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Life Starts in Each Step, Not When We Reach the Top

Every year around the end of February, I feel like I start to lose my mind.

It’s the time of year when winter in Ohio feels like it’s never going to leave, and getting my hands in the dirt again and going for bike rides and kayaking seems like a distant dream. Instead, we have frigid, gray days where going outside is, of course, possible, but in limited spurts.

By this time of year, when the sun shines just a bit, my visions of spring and summer start to come alive. I crave the smell of the earth, having coffee at dawn on the porch watching the sunrise, and being outdoors the entire day playing, planting seeds, and feeling the sun on my skin.

A pandemic in winter adds an extra layer to this feeling of frustration I’ve been wrestling with. It’s made me even more hungry for connection, nature, and the sun to shine again. It’s not an easy task to remain hopeful that spring will be here soon and maybe we can have birthday parties again, see our families, hug each other tightly, or even see each other smile.

So, what to do in this interim time while the sun is hiding, while we have to wear masks and wait for the darkness to lift? Keep moving forward, knowing we’ll get there. Some days I’m not great at that.

The other day my husband was taking all the kids sledding. Normally, I would join them, but I have let winter defeat me so much that I didn’t feel like going. The thought of putting on so many layers I can barely move did not appeal to me. The idea of staying home in a quiet house with a cup of tea? Now that I could get behind.

But then my son, whose emotions are wired similar to mine, told me I should come because I would have fun. He reminded me it would be worth it to push myself to get outside. He told me I always have fun being silly outside, so I should do it.

Dangit. He’s right, I thought.

When we got to the sledding hill, the prospect of climbing it made us all groan a bit. My son, who is the youngest, was walking the slowest, so I stayed back with him. We had been to that hill before, and every time we go, he gets frustrated by the climb.

I told him, “Remember what I said last time. Don’t look at the top of the hill. Focus on this step right now. Put your head down, take 20 steps, and then stop, and look up. Then look behind you to see the progress you’ve made. Do that a few times, and your big task of climbing this huge hill is then a bunch of small goals that aren’t so overwhelming.”

As usual, the pep talk worked, and it got him motivated to take on these small attainable goals along the way instead of being intimidated by the enormity of climbing to the top. After his first trip to the top, he didn’t have to count his steps again because he proved to himself that he could do it, and so he did.

That same sort of thinking can be applied to everything in life, right? We all have these things we want to accomplish, and some are so big and beyond our current selves, that we don’t even start because it’s just too much. But what if we take a few steps toward it, stop, and give ourselves credit to keep the embers of hope burning?

You worked out today.

You wrote a page.

You cleaned one closet.

You sent out one resume.

You got through another winter day in a pandemic.

It’s so easy to get stuck in our own heads about how the world is not cooperating, and there’s nothing we can do to change it, but it’s just not true. The perfect moment is right now. This ugly, imperfect moment where we’re wasting energy complaining about how hard it is.

Life doesn’t start when everything lines up to match the script in our heads. This moment--this gray, wintry, frigid moment amidst a pandemic--is the moment for us to take a step. One step. It’s not the moment to look at the mountain, get overwhelmed, and go back to binging on Netflix.

That’s too easy, and we’re done with easy. Hard things are where life thrives.

Winter will pass, and the sun will shine again. Until then, I know I can’t mope around talking about what I wish life were like right now. I need to embrace what life is right now. Only then does the mountain feel more surmountable.

As I write this, it’s 14 degrees outside. The orange sun is rising, and it makes the snow I’m so tired of look beautiful. If I spend too much time excited for only the next season, I’ll miss out on this season and all it has to offer, like these moments of clarity, silence, and challenges that press me into growing.

If we put blinders on, focused only on where our lives could be going instead of this moment, we can’t enjoy the hard work that goes into life instead of dreading it. We have to do the work to live life deeply. Sitting back and being frustrated gets us nowhere. The frustration can be the fuel we need to get our butts up the hill and enjoy the view not only from the top, but from each tired step we pushed ourselves to take along the way.


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