Surrendering to Everything
I was brought to my knees by something that I couldn’t see.
It’s around 10:30 PM, but I can’t be sure.
Lines of salt residue have collected on the lenses, obscuring the time. I shove the glasses into the vents of my helmet; I’ll be climbing for a while anyway. The top tube of my gorgeous race bike, slender and athletic, is unflatteringly adorned with the bulky battery pack that powers my headlight. Night riding isn’t ideal, but the cooler temperatures make it worthwhile.
An email notification flashes across the screen of my Garmin. “Subject: I don’t understand why my order is taking so long….” A surge of anxious energy drives me out of the saddle. I drop a gear and dance on the pedals as I pass the old military cemetery and round the corner onto the next climb. As the hill crests, I deliberately miss my turn, opting to advance farther up the road to the water treatment plant. Another notification. Another searing shot of dread. Another gear.
The water plant marks the end of the grade, but I continue onto the dirt. The airy crackle of gravel underpins my increasingly desperate breaths. The end of the road appears on the left, but I’m too angry to stop. I persist onto the daunting grade to the right. I’m familiar with the hill that awaits me, but I’ve only ever ridden it on my generously-geared mountain bike.
My heart rate begins to plateau; I’m closing in on the maximum.
My hands abandon their perch on the top of the bars and return to the hoods. The anxiety is finally gone, dislodged by white-hot agony. By the time the top comes into view, my breath comes in frantic gasps. I try to get out of the saddle, but the surge of power causes my smooth tires to slip, forcing me back down.
An eon later, I reach the top.
I catch my fall with one leg and crumple awkwardly to the ground. My right foot is still clipped into the pedal, but it’s too late to do anything about it. Every breath is petrifying, every muscle shrieks in protest, and every dark thought is briefly interred in a hazy calm.
I’ve earned a brief moment of clarity. The anxious drone of thought dies. I feel totally powerless; physically shattered and entirely at peace with my surroundings.
My breath slowly returns, and I roll onto my back. I fall into the infinite darkness above as my eyes meet the sky. I’m acutely aware of my smallness. The collection of emotions, thoughts, and hopes that denote my consciousness is totally and completely irrelevant to the incomprehensible forces surrounding me. The sensation of enormity takes my breath away. The body that carried me up this hill is nothing but a circumstantial arrangement of molecules- a random, imperfect, and temporary collection of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.
In a few decades, my body will join the mad chorus of entropy, and everything that I understand will cease to be. I’m gripped by simultaneous floods of giddy happiness and oppressive sorrow. I scream desperately into the void.
In that moment, broken and dirty, teetering wildly on the edge of sanity, I felt superior.
The brush that framed the road, the flowers that dotted the hillside, and the myriad creatures burrowed in the clay under my back could not experience what I felt. My humanity and its contingent curse of self-awareness make the universe mine.
There is something bigger than we can understand.