The pace of my heart quickened as the tempo of my steps struggled to remain in rhythm. I reached the summit only to realize that it was a false beacon of hope; the trail curved to my right, revealing yet another climb before relief could be found. It had been many months since I last ran this hill in summer’s heat and tasted the potent mix of salt from sweat and bitterness of pain.
Several miles later, the pain quickly fades when I reach home and enter the conditioned air. Cold water washes the bitter saltiness from my mouth, and without warning the thought comes to mind…
Before my mind can complete that thought, another comes… “I wonder when I can do it again.”
Why is it that running, climbing, and fumbling over rocky trails make me feel alive? Why is it that leaving the security and comfort of modern living and choosing to make my home in the backcountry for a week is so reviving to my soul? Why is it that waking in darkness, hiking in darkness, and spending hours in wait for a mere second to shoot is so satisfying?
Why is it that doing hard, sometimes even miserable things is so life-giving?
It should be that comfort, convenience, and security make me feel my best. But my daily life – which is overflowing with these great gifts of modern times – often leaves me restless.
Ease is seductive, but never satisfies.
Why is it that we – those of us reading this screen from comfortable conditions, on technological equipment that wasn’t even an object to be dreamt of a few decades ago, surrounded by toys and trinkets that costs thousands – why is it that we are not fulfilled?
Part of the reason is because we have spent our lives avoiding Something Awful. We medicate ourselves with busyness and noise, in an attempt to forget that he exists. Instead of facing him, this Something Awful, we hide in the darkness of comfort.
In The Heroic Path, John Sowers recalls his earliest memories of Something Awful…
“Even if I pulled the covers over my head and pretended to be asleep, Something Awful was still there. Waiting. Breathing its hot, rancid breath on the back of my neck. As a boy, whenever I got out of bed, I never just stepped off. I leaped for dear life, trying to get several feet of distance. The last thing you want is some Creeper grabbing your ankle. Then you’re toast.”
Something Awful can take on many forms. Most assuredly, Sowers explains, “[Something Awful] growls at us and makes us wonder if we can take the next step. He makes us question if we’re even men at all.”
Something Awful is the thing the makes you doubt yourself; the thing that you fear. He is what convinces you that ease is better than the struggle. He is the thing that drives you to seek comfort, but continual comfort isn’t satisfying, it’s numbing.
Turning to face Something Awful head-on might be a risk, but what’s more fool hearted is turning our back and pretending that he’s not lurking.
To come alive is to face Something Awful. And if we do, we will realize that he is a liar. We learn that we are stronger than we thought. We see that life doesn’t exist in conditioned cubicles of comfort. We will recognize that, unless we have lived a life that exhausts our body, mind, and soul, relaxation doesn’t bring rest – only restlessness and boredom.
Confronting Something Awful may mean getting off the couch, putting down the beer, and running. Literally running. It might mean committing to pursue that dream you have, yet fear. Facing him might make you realize that you are wasting your life chasing trinkets to impress someone that doesn’t really care. (Because they, too, are just another hamster on the wheel.)
Waging war against Something Awful isn’t only about proving you to yourself; it is about displaying our value and strength for other’s benefit. To truly wage war against Something Awful we must fight for our family, friends, and neighbors. Sometimes in my life it is simply having the courage to set aside what I want to do – what I “should be doing” – and wrestle with my son, or let my daughter paint my fingernails instead. (True story.)
Let us not be men that watch movies of great struggles, but fail to lead lives that mirror the same story. Let us not sing songs of victory just because we make some money, purchase more toys, or lead lives of selfish adventure. The hero – in story and in life – is the one that confronts Something Awful, discovers strength and courage, and cares for those around him.
Get off the couch. Ditch the excuses. Stop living your life as a surrogate of another man’s story that you’ve seen in the movies, watched on TV, or (God forbid!) followed on Facebook.
Do hard things. Do good things. Defeat Something Awful.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
- Henry David Thoreau