And as I have raised two daughters, or at least accompanied two daughters while they were too young to easily fend for themselves on earth, I have often positioned myself to experience another type of soreness. A spiritual soreness.
It’s a soreness that can throb suddenly, especially when “I” finds himself doing an activity that “we” were recently doing. But as a spiritual scientist I have often set up experiments to deliberately invoke and isolate this unseen wonder of human existence. To study it.
Experimental Apparatus – The Deerlick Trail
The worst part of the four-mile trail run is the beginning. 1.25 miles straight up the Deerlick Trail, climbing 1000 feet or so to gain a rocky outcrop and a pleasant look down on the Hot Springs Valley and the Homestead Resort. Another mile traces the ridgeline, climbing even higher, and then a series of steep-falling, short, back-to-back hairpins re-connects the ridgeline to the valley. Only the last mile, following a few holes of the golf-course back down to Hot Springs, are what I would consider gradient pleasant for a two-legged creature.
I had run-walk-ed, then run-run-walk -ed, and on the last day run-run-run -ed the four miles of the Deerlick Trail when I was at a business conference here earlier in the spring. On that first day, when I was beaten into walking submission less than halfway to my goal, the itinerary for I’s next two days was set. I doesn’t like to be physically beaten. I challenges himself all the time to be tough physically and mentally and to let challenges like running to the top of the Deerlick Trail inspire him into his next day of life. I dangles his own fat carrot of self-worth and pride in front of himself on these steep trails of mental and physical challenge, and even experiences moments of self-satisfied euphoria on the immediate heels of accomplishment. Euphoric was I after run-running all the way to the rocky outcropping on my last morning, beating the sun’s rays to the peak. Triumphantly I ran along the top of the ridge. Giddily I tap-danced down the steep hairpins to the valley below. Pridefully, full-chested, I did my best gazelle along the edge of the golf course as the golfers, I tells myself, looked on in amazement at this powerful force of nature, equal parts mind and muscle, come down from the mountain to strut before the “them.”
The Catalyst – A Unique and Dangerous Walk
Anna had laughed at me the first time I suggested the hike. She considers “hiking” to be a mere euphemism for “dangerous walking,” and why would she bring any kind of danger into her vacation? Didn’t we come here to relax? She wasn’t even given a vote about coming here anyway. And! Anyway, she’ll lose pace with the Kardashians. Kylie is getting her lips done but isn’t sure she should. A hike? Ha! In the morning? Double Ha!
But there is a playfulness to her protest that is attractive and promising. Though it is true that as her teen age has advanced she has lost much of her interest in dangerous walking, part of me knew that she wouldn’t let Brooke and I go without her on this particular adventure.
You see, we came to the Homestead Resort for the first time as a family to better distinguish this vacation from our countless other beach vacations. This one is different. After this one, Anna is off to college. And though she imitates a shallow youth in her protests and some of her guilty pleasures, the Anna I have come to know for 18 years would know how much her life is about to change, and the physical distance these changes will create between me and her. My Anna would know the value of one last daddy-daughter-daughter adventure.
And sure enough, when Brooke and I walked out of the Homestead towards the DeerLick Trail, the deep and thoughtful Anna I know was not staying by the TV to make sure Kylie’s lips would come out OK. She was taking one last dangerous walk with her immediate family before striking out on her own.
I didn’t have high expectations. Neither of my girls has been showing the masochistic tendencies of their father. They don’t beat themselves up physically the way I do, and other than swimming neither has been very active this summer. I thought that our hike to the summit could become a hike back from the trail to the summit at any moment.
But the stars were aligned for the Turners that day, which might be another way for saying that each of the Turners on the Deerlick Trail knew that this hike was different than every other one we had ever made together. There was no, “I can screw this one up, because there will be another one tomorrow” attitude. There was no getting on each other’s nerves. There was no taking one another for granted.
We enjoyed each other. Joy from each other. The climb was tough, and two of us weren’t in shape for it, but we helped each other. When we reached the rocky outcrop, we celebrated with each other. We took pictures. We laughed. We sent pictures to Anna’s boyfriend (Amazed he was about Anna’s dangerous walking). We made fun of Brooke, and Brooke didn’t care. She fell down like a newborn giraffe in front of other hikers, feet separated from knees, and then did it again when she tried to stand up, and Brooke laughed at herself to help us laugh at her with her. We thought we would be tired after the climb to the rocky outcrop, and want to turn around to go down, but we were undivided in our decision to take the long way home. To finish the hike. Anna with another fake protest. Brooke now feeling her oats. We walked the ridge, then fell through the hairpins. The woman working the remote golf course snackbar was happy to see us when we tumbled off the mountain. Our “we” was putting off a glow, and she was stuck out here all day with nothing but her “I” and some old ladies playing golf to keep her company. She gave us free water bottles and said she was bored. Mommy was at the pool now and wondering about us. We had been gone a long time. We sent her pictures. We walked carelessly down the valley — the most beautiful way to walk. Without a care, talking about silly things. Finally we landed in the one street town of Hot Springs.
The “I” Again, And Spoiled Country
The one thing I should never do, as I press my limits and try to make myself larger, is to invite others into my solitude. Once Anna and Brooke had walked the Deerlick Trail with me, once we had struggled together to the top, giggled our way along the ridge, and laughed our way down and back to the resort, that four miles of trail in the western Virginian mountains was changed forever.
How do I know? I finished the experiment. I ran-ran-ran it the next day.
And when I got to the top, to the rocky outcrop, all I could see was the absence of Anna and Brooke. No euphoria on the trail along the ridge – only absence. Red-faced exhaustion. And soreness? Yes! Soreness in the hairpin turns, at the place where Brooke and I stopped to do a photography experiment. Soreness as I imagine the voices and the souls around me, sharing the trail with me. A different feeling in my chest, now, as the golfers see my descent. Hollow. Lonely. Sore. The trail was full yesterday. Today, just me. Just I. And I knows that if ever I am on that trail again, that soreness will return. The days of solitary euphoria on the Deerlick Trail are gone for ever.
The Conclusion of a Spiritual Scientist
My wife notices that the screen has my attention more than it usually does. We are at the beach with our best family friends. I stare at this screen, and in this screen I only see Anna. I left her in a dorm room at N.C. State University a few days ago. I will miss her. She has spoiled almost every physical space I know. She has spoiled the white space of this screen. Nowhere will ever be the same without her. All is spoiled. I am sore. And yet . . . I somehow realize that I love this soreness even more than I love physical soreness. I love it for its depth, its intensity, and for the larger sense of accomplishment it represents.
My journal from 15 years ago reads:
June 3, 2004
As I write these words, I find myself immersed in the chaos of eastern American family life. I am dug into it, this human life, and still digging. Other human beings around me, close to me, need and depend on me, so that my existence seems inseparable from theirs. Amy, Anna, Brooke and I are linked together, conglomerated, in such a way that to even imagine the absence of one of the parts causes a sinking, simulated pain somewhere deep inside where the bonds with these other humans form and strengthen with no mental effort or special attention from me. Sometimes I only know the strength of the connections, and the raw, nerve-like nature of the emotional tendons between us by imagining the immense pain of one of the parts being torn away. A gaping hole, with dangling nerve endings, ripped sinews and profuse soul hemorrhaging would be created!
Less imagination needed now. Though I still have remote access to her, a certain level of extraction has begun, and when I return to my house, a bedroom will be empty. No experiment. Something so spiritually heavy happened that my soul continues to tell the story. Abrupt, intense soreness!
I love it. My heart carries it around as one of its greatest life trophies. The inscription: “Yesterday, We lived!”