Sunday, July 21, 2013

incremental and imperceptible

yesterday evening john and I attended an outdoor dinner function that began at 5 pm.
at 5 pm it was 100 degrees.
the function was in someone's backyard, and they'd set up huge table umbrellas to block the sun, but there were gaps between umbrellas and as the sun moved, stripes of sunlight moved across people's faces and bodies.
one woman kept getting caught in those strips of sunlight, which she tolerated with a cheerfulness I could only imagine:  I was dripping sweat and drinking glass after glass of water, remaining overheated and somewhere between uncomfortable and miserable.
a bit later the sun had dropped lower and the air seemed just a little less full of heat.  the sunlight-striped woman commented, "I feel just a teeny bit less hot, like this much," as she held her thumb and index finger next to each other, with room for not even a piece of paper to slip through.
we all laughed.

this morning on my bike I began thinking about change.
I'm a better rider than I was seven years ago when I began cycling, but the process has been so slow, the increments of movement so slender, that I couldn't begin to tell you how it happened.  it's as if each time I rode I got a half a piece of paper better---which sounds negligible---but after 150 times on the bike, that stack of paper is a good half-inch thick.

as with most things in life, change--movement, progress--is slow.  with many things we are excessively grateful it's this way (say, aging, watching your children grow up and move on, having your hair turn gray, and so on).  yet sometimes we're impatient.  we want it now.  we want to work at it and then reap the reward, not work on it for 5 years and THEN reap the reward.
but it just doesn't work that way.
it comes slowly, it comes in little incremental changes so slight they're usually imperceptible.
it usually happens that when we master a new skill we don't even realize it's been mastered until we're on to the next challenge.
it's the rare person whose hair turns gray overnight:  it's the even more rare person who moves from "not able to do it" to "doing it well" in a single day.

so each day I go out and get on my bike.  some days I push hard, some days I'm grateful to reach the top of the hill without collapsing.  some days I take on huge challenges and some days are recovery days.  I'm unable to see myself improving.  and even more importantly, I will someday reach a point where I will no longer improve but will start to lose strength and endurance.  and luckily, that process will be incremental, too, with changes so subtle as to be almost imperceptible.

life moves in both directions, and we're simply here to do our best, as often as we can possibly do it.


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