Recently I was sitting on the floor with a gentleman client of mine who was sobbing so hard he could barely catch his breath. He lost his beloved Kitty that day to aggressive cancer we just couldn’t get in front of.
With his hands over his face he cried “Never again, I will never do this again. I can’t! I don’t have it in me.”
Oh yes, I know this feeling. If you’ve ever lost someone (to death or other circumstances), you’ve also felt this pain. And unfortunately, when it comes to our beloved furry friends, we go through this much more often than others because animal’s lifespans are much shorter than ours. His pain was so great it began to trigger my own grief from losing my soul companion, Holly. I remember also saying those same words of “never again” with the same meaning behind them.
A few days later I headed to the north shores of Minnesota for a 3-day hiking and camping trip to fall enchanted upon the changing leaves of autumn before they too would fall to their death. I tried to prepare myself as much as possible for this trip; my 1990s backpack, heavy jacket, yoga pants, and bulky sleeping bag just weren’t going to cut it so I updated my gear and I felt ready. I even got a beanie hat with two little lights attached to the front so I could walk in the dark... we coined it the "bug-eyed beanie".... cos the lights look like bug eyes. It's funny... errr... or at least it was to us. On the first day, my ankle started to remind me that I had sprained it a few months earlier and hated that I was forcing it to twist and turn with all the rocks and roots. Ouch. How long do sprained ankles take to heal?! We were working up a pretty good sweat and there were a few moments of climbing with all our gear I thought I my heart was going to pound out of my chest but at least there were no bugs “Hey look, no mosquitoes!” It was far too cold for the flesh eaters to dine on us (thank goodness!). After hours of steady hiking, sleeping out in the cold and not having a single piece of dry wood to start a fire with before bed, we were exhausted and spent I spent a few moments thinking “Why exactly am I doing this? I've been traveling nonstop and could use a break. I could be at home baking bread, sipping on warm things and sleeping in my own bed. My feet are wet.” But never for a moment was I unaware of the I complete beauty all around us. And never for a moment did I actually regret my decision to have this experience. The moments we would throw our packs down, grab the flask of whiskey and sit taking it all in -the smells, the colors, the quiet. It was so worth the sweat and angry ankle. The autumn colors along the Superior Hiking Trail are something special to experience that people from all over the world travel to see. And in those moments, there was no one there except us and the animals in the forest. Places like this can’t be experienced without working hard to get to them. In fact, all of my greatest pleasures have -in some way- hurt either my body or heart or a combination of the two. You really can’t have one without the other… and if you think you can, you’re fooling yourself. Great love will also surely come with great pain.
My mind traveled back to the gentleman sobbing over his cat a few days prior. When I was sat with him, I asked him how long he had his Kitty and he sputtered out “13 years.” I asked him what life would have been like without his beloved companion and he said “Lonely.” Yes, I believe that it would have been quite so. So what do we do? Do we give up love, beauty, and experiences because the pain that it takes us to get there is too great? Is it better to live a lonely life without experience because at least our heart and bodies will be protected? Is that was life was meant for?
Something I have learned through my own experiences and watching others is that when it comes to love and loss, just like a good hiking trip, no matter how prepared you think you are for it, you never are. You simply cannot prepare yourself for these sacred places.
And when you are giving your heart to someone, it is impossible to know what sort of trip your heart is going to go on or what it will experience.
I don't know about you, but I’ll take the pain of a broken heart if I can experience love. I’ll take an angry and sore ankle if it means I’ll get a view that is only reserved for those who climb the boulders, and I’ll love with the risk of knowing it can be taken away from me at any point because it’s the only damn reason we’re here.
Keep loving. Keep living. Keep experiencing - it’s the only way.