It has occurred to me that a mentality of endurance has aided me throughout the pandemic. I am not a sprinter. Not to disregard how incredibly trying this experience has been thus far, but I think it would be drastically different, arguably much darker, if I wasn’t the kind of person who generally expects things to take time. Yes, my mental, physical, and financial well-being have suffered tremendously, but if I had maintained the expectation that things would return back to “normal” quickly, or if I ignored the logic and reason of hunkering down, I know I would have been in worse shape.
It also helps that I lean heavily introverted. I crave in-person connections with extended friends and family, but I can get along okay, for the most part, on my own. Well, at least for much longer stretches than extroverted counterparts.
Looking back on my life I can see how I’ve always been the “slow and steady” type. When I swam competitively in high school my coach once asked me to swim the 500 freestyle. It was the event that no one wanted to do, which meant that there was a rotation of teammates who were nudged to sign up for it at each swim meet. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sport, a 500 yard freestyle (or breaststroke, butterfly, etc) is a distance of twenty lengths of a lap pool. Most high school swim events are between two and eight lengths. Being a people pleasing person, I agreed to take one for the team. This led to me offering to sign up for the 500 freestyle at many more competitions.
It was unlikely that I was ever going to win that event. Long distance swimming wasn’t something I had specifically trained for and there was little pressure on me to place in the top tier. I was more so a body filling a lane. This isn’t to say I’m not a competitive person, as I didn’t want to come in last, but I also didn’t give myself a hard time when I inevitably placed somewhere in the middle. I also figured that it wouldn’t do me any good to exert myself in the long-distance event when I had a handful of other mid-distance events to compete in. So when it came time to swim the twenty laps I would tap into the folds of my mind and lean on random thoughts to keep my body distracted as it worked to take me back and forth across the pool again and again.
This approach came in handy years later when I took up running and signed up for a half marathon (13.1 miles). I didn’t participate with the hope of winning or breaking time records for my age group. My goal was to simply complete the race. There were plenty of people who passed me on the course. Thirty-something moms with jogging strollers, groups of friends with coordinated costumes, seasoned folks who seemed like they were moving in a low gear but coasted past me just the same. A part of me was a bit disappointed each time someone pulled ahead, but there were too many miles for me to worry about small losses. I was focused on the hope that was the finish line.
I eventually traded running for hiking and speed continued to be something I was unconcerned with.
I tend to mostly keep my eyes on my feet (I’m prone to tripping) while I listen to favorite podcasts and meander along. I may be slow, especially when ascending, but often I can hike for hours quite enjoyably.
For the first and only backpacking trip I’ve been on, there was no training involved in the months leading up to it. I had been to the Grand Canyon before but the snowy weather I encountered didn’t lend to any hiking opportunities. So I was a bit nervous about whether or not I could keep up with the group I’d be joining up with for my secondary Grand Canyon experience, but we ended up all being a great fit for one another. Over three days I hiked thirty-six miles. Ten miles from the top of the canyon down to the bottom to where our campsite was nestled, sixteen miles round trip from our campsite to the confluence where Havasu Creek and the Colorado River meet, and then ten miles back to my car when our trip was over. The last mile was easily the slowest I’ve ever moved on a trail. I literally inched my way up the zig zag path up the canyon wall, cursing and heaving and stopping at frequent intervals.
The same endurance has manifested in non-athletic aspects of my life. As a kid I went through a phase where I was always the last one at the dinner table. I ate food in a specific order, making a point of eating the least desirable bits first and saving the best for last. I still do this, but not as deliberately or painstakingly slow.
Similarly, I would gladly take on four hours of cooking over one hour of dishes any day of the week. In the same fashion I often opt for a road trip versus a domestic flight, time willing. When I paint or draw or write or engage in anything else creative I am not one to race through it with the blind faith that limited talent and learned skill will grant me a brisk process. Instead I edit as I go, preferring to correct mistakes so they don’t accumulate and fracture the overall piece before the final draft is procured.
To me it seems like a better idea to maintain a basic level of removal from the world until the threat of Covid is mostly snuffed out. I think before I act. I take risks, but with caution after having processed possible outcomes. I know that with a country whose citizens are all following different rules (or disregarding rules entirely) that the finish line for overall public safety is continually getting pushed back. For this I am sorry, but I am not surprised.
I have mourned the loss of personal freedoms that have been casualties of caregiving and Covid, but I know neither factor will drag on forever. They both have finish lines, although where they are staked has yet to be seen. Although the absence of an end date for both is frightening, in my darkest moments I can at least know that their weakness lies in their inability to be eternal. Maybe this will be of some small comfort to you, too.