One Step at a Time

1 min
at 11:43 PM

I stepped in the dirt and paused. The biggest climb of the day was ahead of me, but I didn't know it. It was mostly dark and quiet and my head lamp revealed fifteen feet ahead: overgrown brush, bulky redwoods, and a narrow dirt path. I stepped again and felt the trail resist. What had I gotten myself into?

I'm not sure why I came here. I could've slept in. Or I could've waited until the sun was up. Why didn't I? I couldn't answer that now. Just keep moving, I thought.

I cursed the mountain and the darkness. They tired me and hid what was ahead. Had it been light out, I would've seen a long, steep climb, and little else. It would've overwhelmed me. I would've stopped or turned around. Instead, the limitations kept my focus on the task at hand: to put one foot in front of the other. Anything beyond that - an impressive view, an easy descent - was out of mind.

With the sun starting to break, the mountain's steady incline seemed to let up. Then, finally, it stopped; I had reached its peak. I paused, panting. I had little sense of orientation, but soon the view cleared. I could see now what I couldn't see then; I placed myself above the fog yet below the powerlines. I breathed easily and smiled as the trail supported my descent.

In running and in life, it can help to limit my vision. The enormity of a climb overwhelms when consumed in one gulp. Breaking it into steps makes it more manageable. I think that's why I run in the dark though I'm desperate to see. Or I look down to pick myself up.

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Sure, flatness is appealing. You can move and see easily. But an endless landscape would overwhelm and eventually, the openness would blind.

The interruptions give me perspective. They challenge but they also support. They hide and they reveal. In a sense, the limited vision protects me from the uncertainty ahead. Limits, counterintuitively, provide possibilities.

Life is inherently challenging, but it can be many other things. Without challenges, there are no rewards. Without interruptions, there's no peace. Without hills, there's nothing to see.

With a Perspective, I'm Niall Kavanagh.

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Niall Kavanagh is a research associate at Veterans Affairs and Stanford. He runs the trails near his home in Daly City.

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