Cursing the interminable hill
When the night is darkest, the stars come out.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
With about 12 miles of Spanish trail to cover that day, I had to conserve energy. Unfortunately, the path was just steep enough to keep my heart pounding. I love to hike, but this particular hill was interminable. It went up and up a stretch of deserted road that, even after a few miles, still hadn’t leveled off. My energy truly began to flag.
A bend up ahead on the path gave me hope. It might be the top, I mused. I could catch my breath and rest my aching calves. When I got closer, the path just continued more steeply uphill. I uttered a few choice swears and carried on.
How far there is to go
Have you ever had a moment like that in your civic engagement? You put in a concerted effort. You make calls. You write letters. You donate. You vote. You put in all this uphill energy to create change, but things just get harder.
An anticipated reprieve turns out to be a setback. Unethical people change the rules. Devastating events make our energy flag. You can’t help but utter some choice words and lament at how far there is to go. Will we ever get “there”?
Just ahead beside the trail three women were sitting in the grass, having a snack, and laughing together. Their fun and lightheartedness seemed at odds with the daunting hill still left to conquer. They said a friendly hola as I passed.
But noticing how relaxed they looked made me wonder… Could I too sit down a minute to rest?
For you, the answer might seem obvious. Yes, of course.
But sometimes in civic engagement, everything seems so serious, intense, and dire at times, that rest seems pointless or even selfish.
We can continue to work toward our goals, but what if we didn’t have to push to the point of exhaustion, resentment, or giving up? Could we sit down for a moment to rest? Of course. We don’t have to suffer.
Making space for enjoyment
Not far from the top, the three Spanish ladies caught up with me. We laughed about this unending hill and compared our aches and pains. Feeling playful, I said, “¡Somos mujeres fuertes!” We are strong women!
As we continued together, we shared stories about our lives and how we came to be walking this trail. They were wonderful company. Suddenly, the climb stopped seeming so hard. They told me about a good restaurant ahead and invited me to join them. Pleased, I said yes.
At an outdoor table for four with a waterfall view, we savored a delectable meal. What a contrast from an hour before! How grateful I felt for these unexpected companions and their laughter, sincerity, and commiseration.
Though there were still six miles to go, I felt my energy return. The hill flattened out and, hours later, we arrived together.
Three practices to get up that hill
While serious and pressing issues exist, we are allowed to stop periodically and rest. We can catch our breath, let our hearts stop pounding, and take in nourishment. That’s the very definition of self-care.
When we allow ourselves to celebrate the small wins and even laugh, the work feels lighter. We can pause with gratitude for those who have come before us and those alongside us. To echo Emerson, we can find beauty in the darkest night sky. This is soul-care.
Finally, as we journey toward that distant destination, we can choose to connect with other humans in a meaningful way. We can share stories and give and receive support. Rather than forging on alone, we can focus on taking shared efforts together, for this is what helps us endure and create lasting change. That’s community care.
¡Somos humanos fuertes!
As 2022 and a significant election cycle draw to a close, note your current energy levels and whether you want to forge on, slow down, or take a rest. Notice if you want positive companionship or restorative solitude. All are valid options on this journey toward justice.
No matter how steep the hill ahead, self-care, soul-care, and community-care are all essential to getting where we want to go.