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Friday, July 29, 2016

the tide

I am going to be 40 in 23 days.

Am I okay with this? Absolutely. Am I grateful to be alive and healthy at 39.9? For sure.

Growing old is a privilege denied to many, as they say.

Yet...there is something.

I have had a very big year. It has been a year full of saying goodbye: to a house, to people, to outdated ways of thinking and being. It has been a year of letting go, of digging deep, of shedding skin, of cleaning house. To call it a mid-life crisis would be both inaccurate and unfair. It is something so much larger, so much deeper. So much better.

The image that comes to me again and again is the tide. The water comes in and the water goes out, carefully orchestrated by celestial phenomena but seemingly, almost magically.

On the ebb tide, as the water leaves the shore, pulled by the moon into the sea, there is a vast emptiness across the landscape. The underbelly of the ocean, dark seaweed and salt-stained rock, is exposed. Low water can be everything all at once: peaceful, vacant, lonely, expansive, barren, majestic, promising, a playground teaming with sea life.

There is a pause when the tide is all the way out and has yet to begin its return. This rest, known as slack water, can last only a handful of minutes or more than half an hour, depending on the phase of the moon, before the water reverses course and floods back to the shore. Slack water is akin to the brief moment between inhale and exhale when all is gone but about to be restored.

I am at in slack water right now. My tide has gone out and I am sitting in the empty. My mantra to myself is that the tide always comes in. It is guaranteed so long as the moon doesn't fall out of the sky. My tide will also come in.  Perhaps it is one of the more brave acts a human heart can perform: to stand in the space between the old and the new, between what was and what has yet to be, to dwell in the pause between the exhale and the inhale.

There is an old fishing adage that says, "When the tide rests, so should the fisherman."

This fisherman is trying to work that out.

If I can surrender to the slack, to the pause, an alchemy occurs.  Vacancy becomes possibility. Emptiness becomes expectation. Sadness becomes anticipation.

I am on the verge of the next chapter of my life. I can feel it coming. I have cleared everything I don't need out and I have the capacity for the new. I can fill it with anything. Like someone reintroducing food after a fast, I have been very mindful of what I am filling myself with. I have sought out play, adventure and challenge, to shake myself free of my own confinement. I am seeking a lighter heart and a more liberated existence.  I am doing things that frighten me, that exhilarate me, that unchain me.

In that spirit, I decided I would make space for myself to fulfill a long held goal to complete a 100 mile bike ride (a century). I signed up for the Lobster Ride in Camden which offered a century perfect for the overachiever in me: a 103 mile coastal hilly route.

Then I tried to talk myself out of it 20 different times when I saw how it fit into our busy schedule and worried about how hot it would in July riding all day long. But I made myself do it anyway.

The ride was everything I needed it to be: quiet, difficult, long, beautiful. My bike computer stopped working at the start line so I had to let go of mileage and pace and all the things I use to define my success. The route took us along stunning back country roads through the woods and along lakes with heavy canopies of shade and then down a peninsula to a lighthouse.

As midday approached, the sun pounded on my back and the heat rose up from the pavement and I felt like I was in a fire sandwich. I don't exert myself well in the heat and I could feel the toll it was taking. The course was only marked with turns, not mile markers or distance notification or even arrows saying, "You are on the right road!" and I found myself out of water on a blistering road with no other cyclists around (100 miles is a lot of space for a group of cyclists to spread out on) wondering if I had made a wrong turn.

I considered going into some stranger's house and asking for lemonade with lots of ice and I began to fantasize about the air conditioning in the cars that passed me. Low mental moment.

When I finally made it to rest stop 3 (which was almost 10 miles farther than I thought it was), I sat in the shade and gulped water. I looked around at my fellow cyclists and they also looked beat up by the heat which was oddly comforting. I asked the volunteer how far to the next rest stop and he answered, "Sixteen miles down the peninsula to the lighthouse. But you will have an ocean breeze and it will all be downhill."

I would have paid good money for an ocean breeze and downhill.

I got back on my bike and peddled along in the steamy air that couldn't exactly be called a breeze. The little air that was moving was not coming off the ocean, but from the land.  I realized I should have rested longer because I felt like a wilting flower in the heat.  My body didn't even feel like my own.  I didn't know if I was riding 16 mph or 11. I wasn't sure I cared.

I quickly realized the volunteer, in an attempt to boost my morale, had committed the cardinal sin. He had lied. To be clear, when you are riding 103 miles in sweltering heat you don't need that shit. You don't need to be cheered up. You need someone to give it to you straight. Eventually, I got to the lighthouse, dumped water over my head and took refuge in some shade as I prepared for what seemed to be a manageable 34 miles left to ride.

How cool! And I particularly liked the crunched M&Ms in the foreground of this picture.

 I felt decent when I got back on my bike. Until the muscle cramps hit. Despite chugging electrolyte drinks and chomping on salt pills, my body was revolting against the heat. Every few down peddles would make my left hamstring seize and every few up peddles would do the same to my right quadricep. I carried on this way for a few miles. It became impossible to stand to climb hills and I feared for the first time that I might not be able to finish if I couldn't peddle.

The ride was a microcosm of my life. It was damn hard. I needed to just keep peddling. I felt I had lost my way but I just needed to stay the course. I needed to call on my mental fortitude to preserve. Newt Gingrich couldn't have been more correct when he said: "Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing he hard work you already did."

And here was my reward:

Ironically, my pace was decent- only slightly slower than my typical riding pace for much shorter rides. It only mattered in that is made me laugh a bit at myself because even when things are difficult, I usually do a better job than I give myself credit for.

Sometimes a song is given to you like a gift, putting into words an experience that is hard to nail down. I'm very grateful the song "Lucky Now" by Ryan Adams found its way to me.

The lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
And the night will break your heart
Only if you’re lucky now
If the lights draw you in
And the dark can take you down
Then love can mend your heart
But only if you’re lucky now

I am lucky enough to have a heart that will break and open, open and break. I have lived long enough to know how to embrace the challenge and seek the beauty, both at low tide and at high. It doesn't mean it is easy. It means that I might just be okay with it being hard because without the ebb and the flow my life would be bland and anemic. The contrasting pairs that comprise a life- struggle and growth, dark and light, pain and joy- is what gives it texture, depth and meaning. I consider myself lucky to know these fully. I have enough love around me and within me to sustain me. I can rest as slack water with full trust in the flood tide.

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