Never Overwhelmed

It turns out that, if you ask yourself “Can I keep going?”
rather than “Can I make it to the finish?”
you’re far more likely to answer in the affirmative.
Globe & Mail article on sports performance

I have whinged once or twice in these, um, screens, about the schedule uncertainty accompanying this pandemic. OK, OK, maybe a few times. As they say, global pandemics aren’t as much fun as they look: May you never live in interesting times.

Today, as many parts of Canada head into or back into serious lockdown, my hair stylist, who is struggling just to keep his business afloat, recounted a conversation with another client, a nursing manager.

Get ready mentally for three years.

What?! With the progress on vaccines, we’ll be finished by fall 2021, surely. No?

Well, maybe not. It depends what we mean by “finished.” With almost 8 billion of us world-wide, it will take a while to vaccinate a significant-enough portion to really nail this virus’s foot to the floor. The nurse’s point was that even after this acute phase (18 months? more?), we should expect to see continuing flare-ups and restrictions and deaths for another year. Or more. That’s just going by other pandemics.

Will autumn 2021 be better than autumn 2020? Sure. Will we be finished? Maybe not. Likely not.

For athletes, focusing on the finish line might not always be helpful. Ultramarathons, for example, have no set finish: You run until you’re the last one left running. In 2017, a French runner ran 59 loops of a track in 59 hours to win. Here’s what he said about his focus.

The next loop, always the next loop.
You’re never overwhelmed by what you have left to run,
because you simply don’t know what you have left to run.
– Guillaume Calmettes

And, of course, this is life itself, isn’t it? Most of the time we simply don’t know what we have left to run.

The Buddhist practice of Five Remembrances encourages us to reflect regularly on the unavoidability of our own endpoint. Knowing that the end will come is clarifying; counting the hours until it comes, on the other hand, is paralyzing.

After she turned 90, my mother had the clarity of knowing that she was in the last stage of her life, yet even then she didn’t know exactly when she would finish. But this knowledge and uncertainty did not combine to overwhelm her: she just kept going, enjoying something every day. So may we all.

How long? How far? How hard?  How fine?
How heavy or light the load?
If it’s half as good as the half I’ve known
Here’s Hail!  to the rest of the road.
The Rest of the Road, Don Blanding


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12 Responses to Never Overwhelmed

  1. Marion says:

    This way of thinking (although I can’t claim to have mastered it completely by any means) is how I made it to the top of Kilimanjaro and to the end of our Everest base camp trek. Can I make it to the next bend? To the top of that ridge? For another ten minutes?
    However it’s also how I went too far on our Peru trek when I was very ill to the extent that my husband had to step in and say that’s enough. I’m a bit of a bulldog he says. In my more, ahem, senior years I have learned to do that for myself a bit more.
    But it’s a very good way to approach a task that seems overwhelming.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marion – Yeah. no mastery here, but at least I see the point. 🙂 And yes, it’s good to have an effort-buddy to hold us back if we get silly.

  2. Every word here seems important to me in this, my 80th year. The reset on our excitement about promising vaccines is especially worthy of note. Bravo!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Did you recently celebrate a birthday, then? Another milestone. Glad you enjoyed the article. I thought it was well done.

      • I avoid doubling up on birthdays :-). The 80th is the upcoming one so I am in the midst of that year. I’ve often thought the word “birthday” is a mite misleading because you are not allowed to count “1” on your actual day of birth although the dramatic development from Day 1 to Birth Day is quite an achievement.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Laurna – By that way of counting you’ll be able to mark the 80th twice: once for entering that year and once for completing it. I have a vague memory that some culture considered people to be 1 year old on the day of birth. And it turns out I remembered half of it – your age increments at Chinese New Year, no matter how close to it you were born.

  3. barbara carlson says:

    The 10-minute “rule” to keep going also helps to start something if your flesh is willing but your spirit is weak [sic]. Set the timer. When it rings you’ll be surprised you’re quite into the job and perhaps even half done already.

    Also, at the half-way point of each of my years, I start to think of myself as a year older than I am — that way is 1) not a shock and 2) …nah, that’s it.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – 🙂 The timer trick is a good one. Thanks! I’ll add it to my repertoire. I use something similar when I don’t feel like exercising (especially on circuit days): I say, well, I won’t do all 3, I’ll just do 2 (or 1, in a pinch). Sometimes I go on to get it all done; sometimes not, but at least I keot going.

  4. Tom Watson says:

    The prospect of three years before we can rest more easily about the pandemic is sobering. That’s some “keeping going.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Maybe she meant 3 in total. That would help, right? But yes, in either case it’s sobering.

  5. Marilyn Smith says:

    At times like these, I often prefer not to be sober.

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