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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: The Cookie and the Climb

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions in the past couple of months, from the death of one of my oldest friends to my son’s graduation. I have spent time with family, I have visited with friends, and I’ve finally started to embrace activities that give me joy, rather than spending all my energy doing things that drain me. I’m learning to prioritize again, and I’m hoping it leads me back to a better place. My absence has been punctuated by a flurry of house cleaning and self-reflection.

I promise to get back to my life cheat codes at some point (I’ve recently learned that someone I follow on social media is using the phrase “cheat code.” I doubt that he stole it from me, but it does make me want to re-examine what I call it). In the meantime, a couple of things happened over the past couple of weeks that made me reflect on life in general, and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is related to, of all things, a cookie. A local bakery makes some of the most decadent sugar cookies around. They practically fall apart, and I’m convinced they’re only held together by the icing that covers them. At any rate, my son wanted these cookies for his graduation party, and as I feared, we went home with about thirty of them at the end of his party. I was informed by my wife, in no uncertain terms, to “get those things out of here,” for the betterment of all our waistlines. So I did what any self-respecting medical professional would do – I took them to work. Mind you, I think there were only about fifteen left by the time I actually took them to the office, but I began to offer them to the coworkers in my pod. I apologized to my colleagues that some of them were broken, but to my surprise, some actually chose the broken ones. I had one coworker even say to me, “The broken ones need love too.” To me, it was a heartwarming reminder that there are those in the world with compassion for the broken; you should embrace those people with all your heart.

During graduation week, I had the pleasure of hosting my sister and her family in the days leading up to the ceremony. They are a fit bunch from Colorado, and by the time they landed, they were asking me if I had ever been to the climbing gym in town, a business that has utilized an old church as its base of operations. I had not, but that didn’t last long. That Friday morning, we all packed up and went to the church-turned-climbing gym. Little did I realize that I would be learning a lot of life lessons that day, the first of which being never trust a sport where the footwear requires you to go up a size from your usual to be comfortable. For me, that falls somewhere in the region of “Yeti.” Plus, there’s nothing wrong with me wearing my running shoes when I’m not running, but in no way would I ever wear climbing shoes anywhere other than up a rock face.

We go into the gym and learn the basics, of which I knew nothing. My Colorado family is all nodding in agreement with what is being said, and I suddenly felt over my head. When you climb, there is something called a belay line, something that allows you to safely descend, rather than just falling off the wall. They have lines that will lower you automatically, but my niece specifically had a very strong opinion about trusting a machine to get you down safely. The other option is to have someone on the ground secure your line to them, and they’ll use their own weight to counter yours and slowly lower you. The person holding the line is also responsible for taking up the slack in your line as you climb.

The various paths up the “rock” face are color-coded and are of varying difficulties. I started on one that was called “Kermit the Frog.” I know it was because of the green color of the footholds, but it also invoked images of the fact that I would probably climb like a child who likes Muppets. As I often do, I began analyzing the task before me, and I could see how the various paths progress, and I gained confidence in seeing the pattern. Soon, I discovered that these patterns aren’t immediately obvious when you’re on the wall and fifteen feet off the ground. But that was when my nephew, who was on my belay line (he was the only one with weight sufficient to counter mine), would tell me, “There’s a foothold about a foot up and to the right of your right foot.” I was also informed that you should step on the footholds a certain way, and using just the tips of your feet won’t always work. I internalized this lesson as fast as I could – no one would ever mistake me for a point ballerina. As I neared the top of the wall, I could feel my muscles starting to give out. My forearms had swollen like Popeye’s, without the spinach-induced strength. I was literally one handhold from the top, and I could feel jerking on the rope, like my nephew was trying to will me up. I borrowed his belief for that moment and powered my way to that last gripping point. It felt good to conquer that feat, something I’d always wanted to do. Despite only doing a couple of climbs, I was exhausted when I was done, yet satisfied.

I reflected back on that time spent with family, and I realized that there are a lot of life lessons in rock climbing. Here’s what I mean:

1. There are steps to take toward any goal, but you should take them one at a time. It’s okay to pause on your climb, to gather your strength for the next step.

2. It’s not always easy to see the next step when you’re up on the wall and distracted by the pain and the fear. Sometimes the best vantage point can be achieved by taking a step back and seeing it in its entirety.

3. It can feel lonely during the climb, but you are never alone. There’s always someone holding your line to keep you safe. And if you fall, they’re there to make sure you don’t get hurt.

4. The strategies that you utilize to move toward your goals in other areas of your life do not always apply. You have to develop new strategies to succeed in new challenges.

5. No matter how bad the person supporting you wants you to succeed, they can’t do it for you. The strength to climb has to come from you.

So what started out as a cool bucket list activity with family turned out to be a huge life lesson. I wish each of you success as you navigate your own climbs. As always, be excellent to each other, and…

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