I spent the past two weekends attempting to tame nature and bending it to my will. I was not entirely successful, but I learned to admit my limitations, which is the best lesson I could learn for my 21st birthday. Nature humbled me.
It sounds like an episode of man vs. nature. And it was… PG version. Climbing Mt. Kenya to 16,000 ft above sea level was a journey but coming down was an experience. On the last day, I stepped on a pile of loose rocks and sprained my ankle badly. I had to walk the remaining 15 kilometers on an orange-size swollen ankle while carrying a 30 lb pack. The amount of mental control and focus I used to not give up and simply ask a car to come pick me up was excruciating. As someone who can stomach a lot of pain without complaints, I had to play every mental games in the book to get me through the trek. As I neared the base camp, I was fuming. How could I have been so careless that I sprained my ankle? And how could I let something so minor like a sprained joint consume all my thoughts and energy? I was defeated by a sprained joint and, in turn, nature which had caused it.
It was not until we had reached Nairobi after a three hour car ride back that I realized that it was not a defeat I had experienced. I was being inflexible and inpractical. I was adamant not to let nature rule me. But in my determination to defeat nature, I ignored my own limitations and suffered consequences.
I got smarter the weekend after that when I went whitewater rafting in the Nile in Uganda. We still went through a lot of Grade 4 and 5 rapids- I even swam through a Grade 5 rapid- but we recognized for safety reasons to stay away from one particularly nasty Grade 6 rapid. I realized that I could never compete with the roaring black-hole water torrents, no matter how much I try.
There are people, including me, who take pleasure in pushing the boundary physically and mentally. People climb Mt. Everest and attempt to swim from Florida to Cuba to challenge themselves and show the strengths and toughness of human kind. Yet at the same time, being older means that we start to recognize our own limitations and try to push them away as much as possible without endangering our core. We still maintain our hubris that allows us to believe that we have the ability to do the superhuman activities but we do so with calculations. Calculated risks.
Imagine a square box surrounding us. The sides are the typical limits that restrict our movements. The goal is to make push the sides but still keep the same essential meaning. What can we do to go beyond the limits but still remain human, including our vulnerabilities? The resulting shape is a rectangular box. It is still a box with four sides, but the sides are bent and the box changes shape. Same essence but different.