Shifting Winds; Thawing Emotional Pain
Running ten miles had never felt so easy. Even though I was only nearing my halfway turnaround point, I was confident I could run indefinitely. Nothing beats mid-autumn weather. Running, and even life, seemed just about perfect.
Then I turned around.
Why hadn’t I noticed the 30-mph wind? Had it been blowing this strong when it was at my back?
Nagging thoughts poked through my optimism. Was the wind at my back the reason why this run had felt so effortless? My energy faded in direct proportion to the headwind strengthening. Still I tried to silence my silly thoughts and tried to convince myself I’d be fine.
My warm autumn sun decided to hide behind thick, billowy, gray clouds. Apparently, those clouds had been forming for the past hour, but they’d been at my back. I hadn’t noticed ominous weather shifts. I’d been oblivious.
Next, the plummeting temperatures really caught my attention.
Thirty-mile headwind. Grey clouds. Windchill. What I’d thought would be a carefree fall run had turned into an extremely concerning situation. The change was dramatic. My entire being was consumed with the painful, overwhelming conditions as I ran toward home.
I was so cold.
I began scouring the roadside ditches for plastic bags to cover my bare and freezing fingers. I was smart enough to know that without protecting them, they’d be at risk for frostbite.
I found a strip of plastic and wrapped it around each hand like a cast. While it buffered the wind, plastic wrap was a weak substitute for warm gloves. I had about an hour left, and I’d already lost feeling in my fingertips. I was unprepared, scared, and alone.
Please realize I was literally still running on the same trail. But in the opposite direction under completely different conditions. The trip home seemed endless.
When my run was easy, I hadn’t really noticed much except the winding blacktop path ahead of me. Now that my run was incredibly hard, all I could do was look at the nameless faces driving on the highway next to me. During my pain, I couldn’t stop comparing their apparent comfort to my painful plight. Soon I was looking for someone else to blame.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it to the warmth of my home. Within minutes, my tears begin to flow. While I felt extreme relief, I had to face the nasty reality of unwrapping the plastic from my fingers. I couldn’t feel a thing, yet I trembled at the thought of sticking my frozen fingers under water trickling out of the kitchen faucet.
My fear of remaining numb competed with my fear of the painful thawing.
The battle glared right back at me as I watched the lukewarm water trickle off my stiff, red fingers. I was close to vomiting while enduring the pin pricking sensations in both hands.
Ironically, the process of regaining feeling almost made me want to stay numb. I never, ever wanted to experience pain in my fingers like that again. I vowed to be prepared for any weather change, and for the most part, I have been. Those are choices within my control.
Too bad life doesn’t mirror that reality. I couldn’t stop thinking about that run because I intuitively knew that fickle fall day mirrored my life more than I wanted to admit.
I was “fine” when the wind was at my back. When life felt easy and fun. When I falsely believed that I was the one in control.
But enter chilling cold and strong headwinds. Enter changes that I could not control. Enter emotions such as sadness or loneliness or fear. I’d drop to my hands and knees scouring the ‘roadside’ for the perfect ‘plastic’ to keep my heart from feeling. I’d gotten good at it after thirty plus years of practice.
My heart had grown attached to those layers of plastic, but I’d lived too long declaring that I was fine when I wasn’t.
That ugly lie wasn’t working anymore. I didn’t like the woman who emerged when change flooded over me. So, hunched over my internal ‘kitchen sink’, I acknowledged some choices I needed to make.
I could keep layering my heart with discarded plastic bags and push through the cold and the wind on my own, or I could go through the painful and frightening process of thawing out my heart to feel the real emotions changes in my life would surface.
I was intimidated by either path.
So, I tiptoed toward what my frozen fingertips taught me. After they thawed, they could do what they were made to do. After my heart thawed, could it also do what it was made to do?
I had some unwrapping to do. My life depended on it.
BIO: Linda Bryant writes to encourage others to slow down enough to notice and treasure the people and the moments of their life. She values time in creation to notice the spectacular uniqueness of each season. Whether planting or weeding or simply meandering, she sees life through her backyard garden or nearby forest preserve. She also spends a few moments most days creating something.
Most importantly, she is married to the love of her life, Ron, and treasures time with her three precious adult children, their spouses, and three grandchildren. And her little puppy, Wrigley, makes her laugh.