Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Life's Too Short for That

A couple days ago, I hiked from my home at the south end of Lake Union to the neighborhood of Ballard and back, a round trip of more than 12 miles. It was a hot day by Seattle standards. I tried to stick to the shady sides of streets, but as the sun moved more directly overhead, I found myself trekking in full sun much of the way. I started off with a bounce in my step, but naturally, I wearied, my feet began to sweat and my calves to pulsated. One of the things I like about these kinds of long hikes is the opportunity to think, but by about the halfway point of this one my brain was in neutral, a kind of trance that matched my body. My whole being was focused on nothing more than putting one foot in front of another. 

It started as a brisk walk on a fine day and ended as a slog.

Most of us, most of the time, avoid slogs of any sort. They are time consuming, tiring, and mind-numbing. We quit our jobs over their "slogishness." Life's too short, we tell ourselves. And, believe me, I've been there, trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of rote and sameness, head down, just trying to get through. It's how school came to feel for many of us, or at least certain subjects or classes, a pea soup of meaninglessness, repetition, and increasing weariness, something to get through, to survive.

It's this, the slogs of life, for which people often feel we must prepare our children. Sure, they love to play, but you can't just play your way through life. It's an attitude that makes me combatively counter with, "Well, why not?" but I get their point. There are plenty of unpleasant things we find ourselves doing throughout our lives, things we don't want to do, things we dread, slog-like things that must get done and we're the one who must get them done whether we like it or not, and we see those things in our children's futures.

But is anyone ever prepared for a slog? Is there anything I could have done to make my slog to Ballard and back easier? I imagine I could have trained for it, gradually building up my tolerance for slogging by doing some pre-slogging, perhaps growing more accustomed to the feeling of slogging, becoming more masterful in my slogging, honing my slogging to a kind of perfection. I could have filled my days with slog, living it, breathing it until slogging is all I knew. If I did that, if I'd prepared myself properly, then my round-trip would have been . . . still a slog.

Of course, my slog to Ballard was a self-chosen slog. I could have hopped on a bus at any time. I could have stepped into an air conditioned restaurant, ordered a plate of pasta and a cold beverage, then called an Uber to take me home again. But I didn't because sometimes I love a good slog. It's why I tackle thick Russian novels. It's good for the soul. But that will never be true of slogs imposed on me by circumstances or by others. They will remain hard, tiring, and mind-numbing no matter how much experience I have.

Life's too short for that. This is why children must have the time and space to play. Life will force plenty of slogging on them without any help from us. And it's ridiculous to think that we can prepare for a slog by slogging. If nothing else, it's the play that makes the slogs bearable.


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