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