Twas the morn before Christmas and outside my house, not a car was stirring, nor even a mouse.
I had zipped my winter coat over my pajamas this morning to bring our recycling to the curb. When I stepped out onto the porch, it reminded me of the mornings when my boys were young and we woke early on Saturdays to take them to hockey games. Those days were hardly quiet. It was always a rush to get breakfast into their bellies and gear onto their bodies and all of us into the car.
On Sundays, we woke early for church. Monday through Friday, it was work and school. Never a day to sleep in. Never a break, it seemed.
My mom used to talk about how much she loved getting up before anyone else and enjoying the quiet. When my kids were little, what I wanted more than anything was to sleep in.
But I always relished that moment on a winter morning when I stepped outside into the cocoon of the stillness and silence. If someone had boxed up that feeling of peace and put it under my Christmas tree, I’d have needed no other gift.
These days, my kids are grown, and I have my fill of solitude. I’m much less in need of cocooning but I still appreciate the gift of quiet, peace-filled moments. They are opportunities for reflection.
This holiday season, I wish you many of those moments. I hope they allow you to reflect on life, and I hope you find reasons for gratitude, even if you have to dig deep, as I know many people do. If it helps, pretend I’ve wrapped the gift and placed it under your tree with a fancy bow and a tag that says,
“From Karen. To my friend.”
If you don’t celebrate Christmas, pretend the box is on your table or windowsill or already in your hands.
When my younger son took up rock climbing a few years ago, I wasn’t entirely supportive. I thought, You couldn’t take up bowling or, I dunno, chess?
When he talked about climbing, I played my mom card with an occasional gasp and fearful noises. He finally made it clear that my attitude was annoying, so I stopped. I started encouraging him. Eventually, I told him I’d like to try it sometime—indoor climbing, that is.
“Sometime” happened over Christmas. I wanted our family to celebrate the season with shared experiences, not just gifts. I’d have been perfectly happy with tickets to The Nutcracker, but when you’re trying to enlist the enthusiasm of a husband and two grown sons, ballet wouldn’t cut it. Rock climbing would, so that became the plan.
As a certified chicken, this was big. I rarely ride a bike because I’m afraid of falling. And the one time I tried cross-country skiing (because I’m WAY too scared to even consider downhill), I took off my skies to walk down an itty-bitty hill.
As it turned out, indoor rock climbing was much safer and less intimidating than I expected. There are harnesses and safety ropes and a belayer—a fellow climber on the ground—managing it all. It wasn’t a big deal after all; just an itty-bitty deal.
The really big deal happened midway up the rock on my second climb. I accidentally banged my knee on the rock. Not hard, but wow. Do knees have funny bones? If so, they’re not funny. The pain took my breath away and my whole leg shook for minutes afterward.
I couldn’t even yell down to tell my belayer why I wasn’t moving. All I could do was to hold on and wait for it to pass. That’s not exertion on my face, BTW, it’s pain.
My body was momentarily paralyzed but my mind was busy.
I can’t do it. My leg won’t hold me. I’m going to have to come down. I’ll have to quit.
I felt so defeated. It was another family outing ruined.
Just a few days prior, we had reservations for dinner and tickets to a comedy show. It was our “big” Christmas gift to ourselves. But my chronic illness choose that day to tangle and jangle up my insides worse than a knotted rope and we had to cancel our plans.
My guys were supportive, but I was distraught. My year had been full of cancelled plans and ruined experiences, and this one was the pinnacle of ruination. But there was nothing I could do; there was no fighting it. So I pulled myself together, we got take-out, made a fire, and played a board game. We were together. It was Christmas. How could I complain?
Several days later, my chronic illness cooperated and I was psyched to redeem myself with family rock climbing. Until the bang of the knee.
Finally catching my breath, I yelled down that I hurt my knee. My husband asked if I wanted to come down. I said, “I don’t know.”
I pictured letting go, leaning back and rapelling down. I pictured me standing on the floor below, having quit.
I didn’t want to be that me. I didn’t want to be her. Again.
I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. The hard place was defeat.
Something within me decided that this time, defeat was not acceptable. I don’t always have control over my chronic illness, but I knew I had control over a banged knee.
Waiting until my leg stopped shaking, I yelled down, “OK, you got me, Steve?”
I took a tentative step up to another foothold. Then another. And another. It was hard, and it hurt, but I did it. When I reached the pinnacle, I slapped the top of that fake rock like I had climbed Mt. Everest.
It felt so good, my chest swelled with pride as it heaved with breathlessness. I almost started crying with joy and relief right there, but I sucked the tears back in because nothing would have made my son avoid family rock climbing in the future more than a public display of my ugly cry. “Leaky faucet,” he used to call me.
Call me what you want. I was a winner that day.
I beat the rock and the hard place.
When so much of my life is beyond my control, that opportunity to conquer defeat was priceless. With my ego and my psyche so fragile, I needed that win.
My adventure reminded me that I have the wisdom to know when not to fight—when I need to let go, to breathe, to just be.
And just as importantly, it taught me that I have the wisdom to know when to fight like hell.