The Day After
Yesterday was the Ides of March. Famous because of Julius Caesar’s demise, it was my (almost) liberation from one of the most intense and wonderful years of my life. But this isn’t really about me. It’s about taking on a challenge and seeing it through.
It’s like an expedition.
The phases: you come across something you are interested in doing. “I could do that,” you think. It doesn’t matter what “it” is. So you sign on—whether that means filling out an application or pulling out the recipe book or plunking down a deposit. Could be a trip, or college/learning, or something on your Life List (I find the term “bucket list” demeaning). You arrive at the front edge of whatever it is, fresh and hopeful and filled with energy and enthusiasm. You load up your gear, whether that’s a functioning computer or a backpack. You set out.
On your way, maybe you have a guide, or a friend, or people you’ve just met who are trying this, too. The starting line of the Boston Marathon comes to mind, with the overhead shot of a mass of spandex-clad people jostling to get going, each of the thousands of them coming off of months of solitary training for the big event. Maybe it’s an editor.
Thank goodness for the guides, because as time passes, this challenge, whatever its character, begins to show its true colors. The way is long, steep, hard, lonesome. Think: slogging up endless switchbacks to the pass, or reading overwhelming volumes of research sources, or missing yet another dinner with friends. It is frustrating and sometimes it hurts. You really should have taped that hot spot on your heel, but you didn’t. You really should tunnel through the rabbit holes of the internet for that bit of detail, but you don’t want to. You know you saw that source, but heck if you can get back to it to cite it. The professor really doesn’t care if the dog ate your homework.
There are times you question your decision to take this thing on. There are tears and exhaustion. You feel so grimy and sweaty and there’s no time for a shower. Maybe you don’t even have a shower to have no time for. The world is conspiring against you. It’s been raining for days and you have no dry twiggies to (try to) start a fire. It’s a gorgeous spring day and you’re stuck at the computer...again. Still. You begin to feel that you will never arrive at the top of whatever it is you are climbing.
It isn’t possible. I’m not strong enough, or dedicated enough, or willing enough, or capable enough. I. Can’t. Do. This.
Rock climbers call that moment when everything turns the “crux.” The edge of impossibility which, when you elbow your way past it, lets you know you’re going to make it after all. Just when you’re sure everything was for nothing on this adventure, you pass the crux (or one of them—sometimes there are multiple cruxes). You take a deep breath, maybe a swig of water, you look ahead. On you go, cautiously optimistic.
And then, impossibly, it’s the Ides of March. The deadline. The finish line. Graduation day. The end of the trip. You did it! You have the certificate of completion, the diploma, or maybe the simple satisfaction of knowing the souffle didn’t fall. This year, I had the deep sigh of relief and astonishment that 90,000 words or so describing the fabulous 50-year history of a remarkable school that I was hired to write actually drizzled their way onto the page (ok, computer screen) in a semblance of order. The publisher’s deadline is met (well, technically, almost met: there are about 5 more hours of sweeping up yet to do today, the 16th of March).
So, there’s a mixed bag of emotions running through me this morning, the first day of the aftermath. It’s ranging from “wow, I did it!” and “whew!” to “now I can sleep in more” and “I can’t wait to take a long walk with my beautiful, neglected dog.” There’s shock and disbelief, the still-circulating adrenalin that opened my eyes, yet again, at 4:45 this morning, the realization that the self-disciplined work ethic of the past year can finally relax, the somewhat random wandering around the finish line looking for...what? Who?
This is when that Academy Awards moment at the mike prompts you to begin your list of thank you’s to the people who helped you on this journey, those in the sag wagon who have been there all along: my amazing editor (thank you, Ben!), my amazing daughter, my amazing friends, my hundreds of amazing and willing sources, my amazing animals, all of the people who have held me up and pushed me along. Thank you, thank you. Thank you all!
So, this is for you, whoever you are and whatever you are doing. Your mountain, however you define it, is there for you, and against you, and with you. Millions of moments will, if you stick to it, lead you to the top. It will arrive, if you keep at it, step by step. And when you get there, don’t forget to pause and look around at the view. Summits don’t offer up their blessings every day.
For more information, go to nols.edu – their history book is now in the hands of the publisher. Release date: next fall. Onward.