As I pull my phone from my ear + thumb over the red “hang up” button my mind is overwhelmed. For myself + more so for my friend. Ideas pumped through my mind, already full of possible worst case scenarios. Was my advice worthy of his situation? Did I say the right thing? Was I leading him astray with my own interpretation of the situation? Life was really doing a great job of punching him in the throat with one reality check after another. I knew he could handle it, but it still didn’t seem fair. There has to be a way to make this better. Easier. Simpler. Yes, yes, I know! This problem is also not…my problem. The drama is not…my drama. Yet I want to help. I want to make a difference in the life of the friend I was just chatting with. There has to be a way for me to fix everything.
Or not. If it’s not really a problem, let along *my* problem…is it even possible for me to fix it?
No. I can’t fix it. There is nothing I can do. Well, that’s not quite true. There is nothing I can do to directly affect the situation. All I can do is stand by my friend, offer up support + be there to encourage whenever possible. So, that’s what I’ll do. Because that is all I can do.
We’ve plopped ourselves down on the couches tucked into the corner of a local coffee shop. We’re each cradling our go-to lattes, warming our hands then scalding our tongues. Our conversation is floating from weekend plans to running goals to work frustrations to family drama. That’s how it always goes when you meet up with a friend to just catch up…right? You swap stories, sharing your life + offering up advice or empathy.
When the weight of real life responsibilities starts to weigh on our shoulders we finish off our drinks, hug goodbye + carry on with our lives beyond the quiet warmth of a coffee shop. As I head toward the bus stop I wonder if I’ve done enough. Was my advice sound? Did I pick up on everything they were laying down, carefully + tactfully? Did my words overstep the boundaries of our friendship?
Nothing was wrong, per say, in either of our lives. But yet, we only manage to meet up when life’s stresses demand a closer friendship, something beyond sporadic text messages. Why is life so difficult? Why can’t I manage to make myself be a better friend — more supportive, more available, more encouraging? Even when nothing is wrong, I want to fix it. I want to fix what isn’t broken…because she’s that important to me + I want to make her life a tiny bit easier by fixing the squeaky wheel + adjusting the wobbly cog in her life. But, I can’t. I can only do my best to be the friend she needs…which may require a batch of fresh-baked cookies next time.
He trots into the aid station, looking like he just ran 20 just miles, not the 220 miles he actually had under his belt. I lead him to a chair, wrap him in blanket + sit him down. To me our conversation is repetitive. I’ve been working this aid station as the medical volunteer for two days. I now know the previous 15 miles were just smooth enough to be runnable, yet technical enough to force your brain to work out every. single. step. Everyone’s feet hated them, no one was truly enjoying food anymore + very few people wanted to hear about the next three miles through town before a climb up + over a ridgeline along a trail that would eventually lead to the finish line. They just wanted to get there. Really, they wanted to be there…at the finish line. Done.
We tossed around sarcastic banter as I unlaced his shoes + pulled off socks dirty enough to stand up on their own. As I inspected his toes, poking + prodding in hopes that his facial reaction would tell me what part hurt to most I listed off everything we could add to his cheeseburger. Onion, tomatoes, guacamole, bacon, mustard, mayo, ketchup, pickles…oh, found it! His face scrunched up + I pulled out a hand wipe to clean off his pinky toe before wrapping it up in tape. As he ate I tucked his swollen feet into a pair of clean socks + shook the sand from his well-worn shoes.
Once he had inhaled enough calories to keep a couch potato alive for a week he pushed himself to his feet. His once bouncing gait was now stiff + shaky. His body was battered + his mind exhausted. Yet his spirit was fully intact + prepared to carry him the next 18 miles, one bad joke at a time. I wanted to follow him out of the aid station, coaxing him to move along the trail + ensuring he wouldn’t slow down. I knew I couldn’t + I knew he didn’t need me out there. He + all of his fellow racers needed me in the aid station. I was there to patch their feet up, rub out tight tendons, whip up burritos to tuck in their pack + tell them to keep moving because they paid for this self-torture!
I couldn’t fix the runners aches + pains…but I could be a little bit of light along the way, giving them a reason to keep moving + removing a few excuses that may prompt them to give up.
Each one of those tidbits are generalized bits + pieces that reflect a few scenarios I’ve been through in the past month or so. In real life, away from the trail, I often find myself doubting my ability…as a human, as a friend, as an acquaintance. I want to help, to fix, to make a difference. Yet I can never decide if I’m doing too much or too little. It seems like I’m always teetering on this seesaw that bobs between helping + meddling. It’s confusing + frustrating. It’s probably all in my head — my overthinking everything + exhausting myself while working my brain into a tizzy. I know I can’t fix everything. Actually…I’m pretty sure I, alone, cannot fix anything. However, when you’re watching someone else suffer or struggling, that’s not an easy fact to accept.
Yet, as soon as I get out in the wilderness it changes. I know where I stand, what I’m capable of + how to take on just about any challenge Mother Nature chooses to plop down in front of me. I definitely do not know the technical “proper” answers to everything that can go wrong on the trail…but I have faith in my ability to step back, assess the reality + adjust my reaction as necessary. This became more obvious than ever while volunteering at the Moab 240 ultra trail race this past weekend. After weeks of feeling inadequate as a fellow human, I found my groove again…at an aid station hours from civilization + many desert-scapes away from cell service. I spent hours cleaning, taping, lubing + massaging the disgusting dirty feet of strangers while joking about their insanity + encouraging their badassery.
I had little to no doubt about my ability to get their bodies patched up + their bellies full before talking them right out of the aid station. Not once did I second guess whether I was doing too much or too little. There was no overthinking the how’s + why’s of my actions…it all just flowed. I wasn’t able to fix them, but I was able to tape them together [figuratively + literally] just enough to keep them going, pushing on through the cold of the night + heat of the day.
Trail running has shown me…I can’t fix everything. Quite frankly, I can’t fix anything. But I can make reality a tiny bit better, adjust my mind to accept the current situation + push onward. My own experiences on the trails have led me to this realization, one failure at a time. While I’m not racing this year, volunteering has done a pretty bomb job of making sure I don’t lose that confidence on the trails. I can only hope the time I’ve spent poking, prodding + cajoling random runners at various races got them thinking the same thing. They can’t fix their aches + pains along the trails, but they can accept, adjust + carry on!
**This article was written while solo traveling in 2017, as I was processing life + the power I have [or do not have] to control things around me, whether for myself or for others. This is an example of the therapeutic style of writing that keeps me sane and helps me understand the world around me better with every word. I wrote similar feelings about self sabotage in 2018, there are very real feelings that I know I share with others!**