Canal -v- Munro

Comparison is the thief of joy.

A year ago, this weekend, I walked 100km (62.137 miles) along the canal paths between Glasgow and Edinburgh … in one go … we set off on the Saturday morning and arrived on the Sunday!

This week I climbed a Munro … Ben Lawers … the 10th highest mountain in Scotland!

There was, however, the small matter of Beinn Ghlas – a second Munro (rather inconveniently!) in the way … so we actually climbed two Munros!! 3,100 feet of climbing to a final height of 4,027 feet … 4 miles up … 4 painful miles back down!

It felt like a tenth of the distance for ten times the effort!

Last year I was sore and tired … this week I think I am broken!! Well … apart from my vocal chords which are not broken and are voicing their objection (quite loudly!) to each movement that I have made over the last two days!!

A year has brought a lot less fitness … a lot more weight … lockdown feet that haven’t been walking for months … so, so many reasons to why my body is objecting strongly to being put through its paces!

Walking with mountain goat daughter and husband it was easy to feel like the ‘fat girl at the back‘!

Last year there was never a point where I thought I wouldn’t get to the end of the 100km … this year when I saw the summit of Ben Lawers there was a part of me that wanted to say ‘I can see the top … that’s close enough … that’ll do!‘ But I knew that I would have been denying myself that sense of achievement … that third Munro bagged … the view that I knew would be spectacular … and most importantly lunch (which was already at the top) and a promised cup of tea!

I’m not sure which of those factors motivated me the most to press on to the top … but had I realised then that I had left the teabags back at the holiday lodge I may just have stayed put and waited for the mountain goat duo to come back down and just meet me where I was! Who knew that hot watery milk actually tastes alright after you’ve worked hard for it!

We can be well aware that comparison with others is often not a helpful, or healthy, thing … but sometimes it is a comparison with ourselves that is the most destructive.

Comparing ourselves to how we used to be … our expectations of what we would like to be … our hopes of what we might want to achieve … can all really steal the joy of the moment that we are actually experiencing … or harder still can stop us even pursuing those experiences.

If I had been choosing the route I would have chosen something much more ‘achievable’ … something flatter that I knew I could achieve comfortably.

But … sometimes … we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones so that we can get to the end of the day and be able to say ‘I’m proud of me!’

Sometimes … it is other people who know that we can stretch ourselves just that little bit higher … push that little bit harder … go that little bit further … sometimes it is in trusting them that our internal voice of self comparison is silenced … and we find that we are able do what we weren’t entirely convinced that we could.

I might have been the fat girl at the back …

… BUT …

I climbed two Munros … in one day … I saw the most spectacular views … I had a splendid day with my mountain goat companions …

… and I have walked from Glasgow to Edinburgh … in one go …

… no comparison required … no joy stolen …

… they are both achievements in their own right …

… and I can be proud of achieving both!

Sometimes we need to tell ourselves the truth … and choose to believe it!

My Father’s Daughter

Today I was sad. Unexpectedly sad.

It’s Father’s Day. Dad died 8 years ago … so there have been other Father’s Days … but this one has caught me by surprise.

Grief is like that … sometimes you can anticipate the difficult days and plan for them … but other days the rug just gets pulled from under your feet and you find yourself free falling without a safety net. Trying to grab something that will break your fall … but finding nothing in your grasp that holds.

‘Special days’ often pass me by … Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter Sunday, Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve … days which are marked as ‘special‘ on the pre-printed calendar that hangs on the wall. Days where we feel we ‘should‘ do something.

For some, these are days of great anticipation … eager expectation … with invitations offered to gather together for celebrations to be shared.

For me … living and working in a hotel … these ‘special’ days were ones where we worked whilst they played!

It was all about making their ‘special’ day … special. And we, in return, would collapse in an exhausted, but satisfied, heap … the months of preparation had paid off … the day had gone well … customers were happy … and would hopefully choose us for their next ‘special’ day.

Even years after I had moved away from home, these remained days for other people … there would be no point in phoning home until late into the night … when the celebrations were done and the parties were over … naps on the sofa had been taken … and late night dinners eaten. The conversations would be tired, exhausted and centred around those other people’s special day.

Marking these ‘special’ days, for our own use, wasn’t really a thing. Apart from Christmas … we shut the doors of the hotel every year and did Christmas for us! [We did also pretty much take over the whole hotel for our wedding … but that’s a different story!]

What then, is this strange sadness I feel this year … this Father’s Day? This unfamiliar … uncomfortable … unwelcome feeling.

I am not my father’s daughter … in the card sending, telephone calling, way that I used to be. That’s not new a new feeling … that has become familiar … some years I have even bought myself a Father’s Day present as a “Yes, I miss him terribly, but I can still celebrate him” kind of thing!

The hotel is closed in lockdown … so this year there are no celebrations, for other people, being hosted there.

Our church building is closed in lockdown … there are no gatherings … no understanding, exchanged, glances … no hugs between those who share the pain of loss … no church family meal for me to cook to distract myself with.

Today I can still observe other people’s marking of this ‘special’ day on the calendar … celebrating dads that are alive … remembering dads who aren’t … dads themselves celebrating being dads … families ‘gathering’ in group chats … and somewhere in the mix of all of that space to be mindful of those who had absent or abusive dads.

It is also Father’s Day in my house … and a great dad lives here … but it feels like ‘not my party’ to organise … but there is a pull in me to do that … or a need to do that … to want to step in … to make it mine … to want it to look like what I think it should look like. But it isn’t mine to host and I shouldn’t try.

So, today, I feel like I am free falling … without an identity to grasp, or a distraction to hold, that would help break my fall.

This year, for the first time ever, this is a really painful place … without the familiar tools to ground myself.

This year, perhaps I am like a bird who has had its wings clipped and hasn’t been able to glide the same way through shifting air currents.

Photo: SarahLou Photography

Free fall is unfamiliar … uncomfortable … unexpected … and my eyes keep ‘leaking’ where I don’t want them to. Yet I know it is normal!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

Perhaps also a time to free fall and a time to glide!