There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
I sat in a parking lot, frustrated with the last several weeks of recovery. I was in the home stretch, able to finally ditch the crutches, but life hadn’t gone back to normal yet. I was patiently waiting for things to smooth out and to settle back in after returning home from Africa.
I had sustained an injury from an unexpected ground fall I had taken in Eldorado Canyon State Park. Moments before I had come off, I immediately knew stepping higher was a bad idea and that I was coming off. At the Roof Routes at the Redgarden Wall, Kurt Ross and I tried Guenese (5.11a). There were several fixed pins, and a bolt followed the first bugaboo. I was not in a good stance to reach either, and went back and forth, testing the holds and feeling out the movement.
There is the moment you realize when you’re about to fall, and everything else after it. There is a sense of urgency to make the move and get protection in, you feel rushed. And then time slows for a split second when you fall (and then almost immediately catches up with you again). When I came off, I slammed into the ground, the entire left side of my body taking the impact on the awkward ramp. My stomach went all the way into my ears and back down.
When I crashed into the ground, it was instantaneous. The gravity around me felt heavy, the fall felt sharp. My entire body tensed up—I knew that I had not clipped that piton. I knew that there was nothing between me and the ground, and I braced for impact. It can happen to anyone. I struggled with the recovery but kept reminding myself that I was breathing. I was still alive. I wasn’t paralyzed. I was ok.
I’m always going to try and see the silver lining, but fuck if it’s easy. It has to exist, I kept telling myself that. Last spring, a breakup pointed me in the right direction and got me to start valuing my time and self-worth. Leaving Denver gave me the chance to examine my relationships with certain people, including myself. Breaking a bone forced me to sit still for a moment. Every occurring event was a part of something larger. What we judge to be unfortunate or a blessing is only relative to the constantly changing conditions in our lives—and if there is one thing for certain, our life circumstances are constantly changing.
With three weeks until a trip back east, I’m hopeful to climb but uncertain of the possibility. I have trouble with not having expectations because, despite my best efforts, I have so many. I tie in to climb a route and I calculate precise movements because I expect to send. I put my work out into the world because I want people to like it and I want to be successful. I wear the cute dress because I want him to think I’m pretty and to like me.
But maybe I don’t send that particular day, my work gets rejected, and he doesn’t call. I’ve been quick to assume that something is good or bad, based on my expectations and forgetting about the larger whole. It’s a lifelong practice that isn’t necessarily about staying positive, but instead, open. I could keep waiting for things in my life to smooth out and to settle back into it seamlessly, but I know better than that. Transition isn’t always seamless and things happen, and that’s just life. It’s about not shutting out the possibility that there are other plans in the works for us that we just don’t know about yet. I might even like the new plan better…maybe.
Cover photograph courtesy of Irene Yee.