Standing Tall, Feeling Small


The temperatures are reaching the mid- to upper nineties again this week, feeling very Nicaragua-like much of the time.  But this is the kind of weather we dream about all winter long and I am careful not to complain about the weather.  Just as in the cold months, I try to ignore the extremes and go about my usual daily routines.  That includes a noontime workout, and today’s regimen called for a 5 mile run.  Properly hydrated and sun-protected, I ran a route that takes me along a cold trout stream, into a forest that winds its way up one of the high limestone bluffs for which Decorah is famous.  It’s an exhilarating trail, one of almost incomparable beauty, cool on a hot day and protected from the searing danger of a July sun.

Whenever I reach the summit of the bluff, I pause for a moment of reflection.  I tell myself that it’s because the vista overlooking the trout stream and forest below is so stunning; the reality might just as easily have to do with the fact that I need a breather by the time I hit the top.  Whatever the impetus, I love the quiet moment up there,  surrounded by Nature that is breathtaking (perhaps the real reason for my gasping?), where I am absolutely alone with my thoughts, and devoid of any distractions or needs to be anything but myself.  It usually includes a feeling of gratitude and self-satisfaction, that I have been healthy and motivated enough to run to this spot on even the hottest of days; I admit to an unwarranted feeling of pride.  That’s the way I felt today on top, looking down into the valley, grateful for the chance to do this, pleased at myself for doing it, feeling accomplished and strong and standing tall up there.

Strangely, there’s another feeling that sweeps over me in such moments.  About the time I’m feeling that strong, invincible sensation of accomplishment and human joy, I am struck with the realization that, of course, such moments do not present themselves to everyone.  There are perhaps many residents of my own community  who will never reach the summit of this place, let alone less fortunate people anywhere in the world who do not have the luxury of practicing wellness, maintaining fitness, cultivating strength and a sense of achievement.  And quickly I am subdued and humbled for my feelings of self-importance.  I cannot share such experiences with others, I do not have the power to  take away the injustices, limitations and oppressions which prevent the ascension of so many, I cannot even explain these vast differences in life’s opportunities and blessings.

And it makes me feel very small, no matter where I might stand, no matter what obstacles I may have overcome to stand there.  I do not presume  to believe that my acquaintances in Nicaragua would harbor the slightest interest in climbing to the top of Twin Springs park; indeed, there are places in Nicaragua which are as spectacular as any sites in the world.  It’s the metaphor of my ascent which picks at my consciousness and steals the mantle of self-fulfillment from my shoulders.

So, here there is no call to action, no prodding to do anything other than recognize the inequity of it all, the imbalance which is an omnipresent fact of our lives.  We are worthy of the joys of achievement from our endeavors, but we also deserve an acute awareness of where all of that fits into the world at-large. Standing tall is a good feeling to have, but it can also cast a shadow, one to make me small….

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