Thursday, November 29, 2007

Walking Side by Side

When I was a kid, Mother did her best to shelter me from the hardships of life. She really loved me and wanted to make my life as pain free as she could. Sadly, this isn't always possible. Even sadder is that, sometimes, it isn't the best way to bring up our children. Life is hard and that hardship toughens us and makes us better prepared for the next struggle we will encounter. My father knew this and was often frustrated with my mother's over sheltering of me. I'm sure it was the cause of many arguments between them. There was one time however, that Dad has his way and I'm the better for it.

In the late 60's backpacking became popular as a vacation activity. My folks decided to take my sister and me to Colorado and we spent a couple of summer vacations in the San Juan Wilderness area. The summer I was 17 my family decided to see the continental divide and view the start of the Rio Grande River. I wasn't as physically prepared for this journey as I should have been. But, we didn't have anyone at the base came to leave me with and I really wanted to go. So my parents, with some misgivings, helped me assemble my pack and off we went.

We took the narrow gauge railroad from Durango to Silverton and then headed out into the wilderness. At some point early in the hike we came to a mountain which wasn't climb worth but was steep enough that it had many switchbacks on the path up it. This turned what might have been less than a 3 mile hike into a very difficult 5 miles. With 25 additional pounds on my back, and being very out of shape, I became exhausted quickly. About half way up I sat down in the middle of the trail and wanted to quit. It didn't help that all around us were some younger boy scouts running up and down the incline. I was tired!

Dad had a goal in mind for the day and it didn't include camping in the middle of the path. He also knew I had been allowed to quit too many times and would do so if given the chance. This wouldn't work for us. I know he was very concerned. He also realized that yelling at me, his usual response, wouldn't help here. So, for the first time in my life, Dad took charge of my upbringing.

He sat down beside me and we talked. He told me he knew I was tired and that the path was steep. He also said he knew I could do this hike. I almost certainly expressed my doubts about this. He promised me he would be with me every step of the way. Then he told me his plan. We were going to sit there for a few minutes and let me catch my breath. Then we were going to stand up and walk 100 steps. When we got to 100 we would stop and, still standing, rest for a minute or two to catch our breaths again. Then we would walk another hundred steps. Then once again we would stop and catch our breaths. We would do this the entire way up that path. And so we did. Dad may have held my hand during the first few hundreds, but soon I found it easier to walk without his hand in mine. And you know what? When we reached the top I flew down the other side. I felt awesome!

That was the first and only lesson my father was ever allowed to give me in perseverance, but it stuck with me. When I was in the Navy Reserve and had to take a fitness test, it came into use. I was again out of shape and had to run 1.5 miles in something under 17 minutes. This shouldn't have been hard, but for a sedentary person it was very difficult. To prepare for this I found a fitness program that I could do inside my apartment. It included running in place for a short period of time and then slowing to a walk and then running some more. Sounds similar to the 100 steps doesn't it? I did this program for two weeks before I was able to run nonstop for 6 minutes.

When the test time came around I ran with my best friend and her boyfriend; nothing helps you stay motivated like companionship. Because she knew about my training program, we ran in bursts when necessary. One hundred steps, then walk, run another hundred, and then walk again. As we moved forward I started increasing the steps. It reached the point where I was running 300 steps at a time. I passed the test with flying colors!

When it was all done, I remembered my experience with Dad. That night I called him up to thank him for that lesson in perseverance. It is one of my best memories of Dad and I love him dearly for it. Throughout my life that lesson has been useful. It helped me pass college algebra. It helped me keep on trying when all I could see was failure in my future. It will help me over the next hill. So, when I hear about parents who get frustrated because their kids won't cooperate, I remember my Dad and determine that if there is one thing I want to pass on to my future students it will be that lesson he gave me so many years ago. Don't quit! And I'll do it the way he did it, not by dragging me along, but by walking with me, side by side.


San said...

What a beautiful story, Lee! And the image is perfect too.

Your dad's advice--to go a while, catch a breath, go a while, catch a breath, go a something we can all take to heart. I'm so glad you have that memory.

And I enjoyed learning about your naval reserve experience. Something I didn't know about Lee.

The image of you and your dad walking side by side makes for a lovely conclusion to your post. Nice work, Lee!

Lee said...

Thanks San! I'm glad you liked it. It is one of my favorite stories to tell about him. I'm going to email him the link as a Christmas gift. Hope he likes it.


San said...

Oh, Lee, he will be touched.

david mcmahon said...

My word, Lee, you just took my breath away with that post.

What you learnt on that path was a metaphor for Life itself.

david mcmahon said...

..... when you have a moment, check out the Post of the Day segment on my blog ....

Lee said...

Thank you, David! You are so right. If you give up you've lost before you even got started.

I'm pleased to report that Dad liked it too. :)

Hope! & Joy!

jsd said...

Thank you for sharing this piece of your life story Lee.

Lee said...

You're welcome, JS! Happy Holidays!


Susan Palwick said...

Great story, Lee! Thanks for posting it! I had a similar experience hiking with the Sierra Club once; I wanted to turn around, but the hike leader coaxed me up the trail!

Lee said...

Hi Susan. Thanks for the nice compliment. I believe I remember you telling about that incident. It was an interesting story.