I am typically an optimist. I’m also an engineer. It means that I am surrounded by people who are ready to correct my positive outlook with facts that suggest something different. In the last couple months, my wife and I have been distance training to be able to complete a century (100 miles). Every single long ride is visited by weird emotions, from determination and excitement to complete discouragement and even tears of joy (which make me frustrated). My wife tends to lean toward negative. Her response to, “this is great, we’re half way done,” is usually met with, “….and my back is killing me.” When you are 60 miles into 80-mile march, this isn’t helpful. If you think about it, everything hurts, everything is tired, and there will be something about the environment that can rip that last remaining joy out of your emotional clutches. My typical mid-ride speech includes the phrase, “you need to get those thoughts out of your head.” One of the mainstays of the Tour de France is Phil Leggitt’s commentary during the hardest moments (44 tours to date). His rich British accent can be heard in nearly every stage saying, “he’s really suffering now!” That seems to be the common thread that binds all cyclists together, our ability to suffer just a little longer until we reach the goal. And, just like most physical contests, it isn’t just about being able to physically overcome suffering; it’s about maintaining a reasonable mental condition through it all.
Like every single person in the world, my life includes highs…and lows. When I was a young teenager, my family was ripped to shreds by divorce. There is a period from about twelve to fifteen where I don’t really remember much of anything, except pain, suffering, and shame. When you live in a small community your business is everybody’s business. It felt like the entire city was trying to determine if it was my mom or my dad that won the record for being the biggest piece of crap. When you are a young kid who still places your parents in high regard, it is impossible to hear gossip about what they’ve done, said, or who they are and not have it feel like a full thrust gut punch. Every moment feels like a test of your ability to stay away from the edge of a cliff that is rapidly eroding away under your feet. Having been a kid of divorce, I can affirm that they are truly the greatest victims. A moment between a parent and their kid that would be viewed as tying heartstrings in a nuclear family is now met with jealousy and rage by the one that was left out. You become afraid to speak of the positive experiences and intentionally downplay the great stuff, just so the other doesn’t get hurt. If Leggitt was the commentator of my life, you would have heard him say, “he’s really suffering now.”
One of my coping mechanisms at this time was to listen to music. With all of the static in the air from the constant attempts to recover from brokenness, music was a place you could escape. By my wife’s approximation, I have one of the more eclectic music collections out there. I don’t see any problem with placing Guns & Roses in the same playlist as Kelly Clarkson. When I was cresting out of the teenage years, trying to decide who I wanted to be in spite of where I had just come, I had two bands that made regular appearances on my playlist; Bruce Springsteen and Papa Roach. These two couldn’t be more different. Papa Roach is a dark angry rock band whose lead singer Jacoby Shaddix was dealing with some serious life issues, including his own parent’s divorce. With songs like “broken home” and “Cut my life into pieces,” Papa Roach allowed me to sit around and be angry, thinking about how unfair and painful life can be. Springsteen, on the other hand, sang songs about memories, America, and overcoming. I would put on his greatest hits and think about my childhood, running around on the farm, and trying to catch girl’s attention at the junior high dance. There is something great about watching the sunset over the water and listening Glory Days. For a few brief minutes you can forget about the fact your life feels like it sucks.
With several decades between my young teenage years and today, I’ve determined that optimism wins the day. For the sake of moving on, I feel like a Springsteen soundtrack does more for healing the soul than punching a wall while screaming the lyrics to Broken Home. When I visited my dad for the first time after he left our home, we both sat there, trying not to cry, wondering how this gets any better. Right around this same time he gave me my first real leather basketball. Now, when I look back on those days, I like to think about that late night at the gym running drills with my new ball, not looking into my dad’s eyes during his lowest moment. My mom cried, what seemed like every single day, for months. The little man in me wanted to protect her and find a way to get over this moment, but there was nothing I could do. It was at this same time that she was playing the piano all the time. Just like the main character in a movie, most of my childhood was accompanied by music. In the midst of unimaginable pain, she was playing and singing songs that were directed at worshiping God. Rather than only remembering a broken, sad person, I prefer to remember how great it was to have so much great music in our home.
Whether it’s a long ride, or just life, there are some pretty rough summits. It is inevitable that we will reach moments where the suffering feels like more than we can handle. Rather than fixate on the painful cramps that come with fatigue and relentless trial, we need to get those thoughts out of our head. Perhaps it’s wisdom, or just the healing that comes with time, but I’ve decided that the best way to run my race is to think about the positives and let a little bit of the pain and suffering that I endured along the way be forgotten.