Lately, it feels as if the walls of the world have closed in and cut us off from the big picture, from convention, from each other.
Life feels zoomed in with no way to zoom out, save for the news — the endless, shocking news that, because it is endless, has lost its shock value.
We’re all navigating the unknown: our health, our jobs, our future … nothing is assured. Whatever priorities and routines we had before the pandemic, that felt so important at the time, have been flipped upside-down, shaken and tossed out the window.
So what are we left with when life hits our PAUSE button?
For one thing, the button itself may be the greatest upshot of this excruciating limbo. When everything stops, it’s easier to see and hear the beauty that’s everywhere: the joyful bird songs at dawn; the morning light in the trees; the warmth of a hot mug in your hands; the visceral pleasure of fresh air and sweat; the laughter with friends whose faces appear on a screen.
The person who taught me to appreciate beauty more than anyone is Hayden Kennedy, who died in 2017. He was only 27 years old, but already among the most accomplished climbers of his generation. He was hardcore, bold, driven. Yet climbing often seemed like the last thing on his mind. Even among friends, he would rarely talk climbing.
Instead, he would notice and appreciate the little bits of magic he seemed to see everywhere: in a landscape, a campfire, a fresh loaf of homemade bread, a book, in people.
In a moving essay published on eveningsends.com in September 2017, just two weeks before he died, Kennedy wrote, “There is this dual nature of sublime meaning and utter absurdity in climbing mountains. Sending harder, bigger, more badass routes won’t make you a better, more humble, more gracious or happier human — yet we often approach those mountains like they can. There is no glory, no real answers, in sending and summits, yet we organize our entire lives around the myth that there are.
“On the other hand, I’ve also experienced how mountains strip us down to our true selves. We see who we are, and we see who our partners really are, and they see us back.”
It’s this intimacy with our friends and climbing partners, based on vulnerability and trust, that sticks with us even now, during lockdown. When I think of the friends and partners who have influenced me the most, I’m reminded how I want to be more like them: to find joy wherever possible; to not make excuses; to have a light heart; to put others first; to expect better of myself; to laugh in the face of fear; to challenge my beliefs; to have fun even when it’s not fun; to express gratitude every day; to not take myself too seriously and to always keep trying.
“Climbing can be an incredible catalyst for our growth,” continued Hayden, “But I am beginning to realize that there’s a certain danger in making climbing the singular focus of your life because it can actually limit the opportunity for growth and reflection if you don’t stop, pause, breathe, and reflect.”
It will be a long time before life will be like it was just a few short months ago. In the meantime, I’m trying to be thankful for the PAUSE button — the silver lining to this massive, menacing pandemic cloud.
Because when I do pause, breathe and reflect, I see so much beauty in ordinary things.
Contact Chris Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8