This past weekend I organized a trip with some friends to Hocking Hills, which I had never been to before. Ongoing allergies had been causing me some issues with my lungs but I ignored it. I was so excited to get out into nature and away from all the e-mails, calls and texts of daily life. I needed a little time to unwind. Four of us got there Friday night: two friends of mine who recently became engaged and a guy who I really enjoy being around and also has a lot of experience camping. I felt so comfortable as we set-up the tent and hung out around the campfire next to the river. There was this oddly familiar feeling in it, and I remember hoping that maybe someday this would be part of what relationship and community would look like for me.
Later the next morning four more friends arrived (bearing the nectar of God known as coffee) and we set off for a hike. A hike that ended up being over seven miles and the equivalent of 70+ flights of stairs. This hike was a high and a low for me. The views were beautiful, the caves were awe-inspiring. The big trees, clear water and massive stones emerging from the earth continuously dropped my jaw in wonder. But in the meantime, my lungs felt like they were two tightened fists. Not wanting to appear weak, I kept pushing myself and pushing myself until suddenly I could no longer get air into my lungs. I looked up the hill at my friend and I couldn’t produce any words. I notice a couple walking by me on the trail as I stood frozen and attempting to gasp. It was startling: in a peaceful sanctuary of trees I became panicked, while surrounded by trees that produced oxygen my body was steadfastly refusing to let me have any of it. I became acutely aware of how necessary breathe is, how delicious, how longed for. The couple I had watched walk by was suddenly back in front of me and she said something about asthma attacks. “Yes!” This thought pushed through the dominating panic and hunger for air. She put her hands on her head and I imitated her. She told me to breathe in slowly through my mouth and out through my nose. Eventually, I expressed as much thanks as I could. I began to do a little better and my friends, who refused to go ahead of me, went alongside me as we slowly finished the last bit of trail.
I was ravaged not just by this somewhat terrifying experience and my wounded pride, but also the beauty of it all. Those caves had been standing for ages, so many different forms of life crossing it’s cool stone. How tiny I am, how short my life is, compared to these natural titans. My lungs merely failing would end me now and yet the rocks, the forest, seem so enduring. The next day we went canoeing, which involved a lot more water than I anticipated. As we went down the river I paused here and there to drink it all in without the sounds being corrupted by my paddle. It was another beautiful day full of life bursting forth, and we played in the midst of it: we splashed, some of us swung on rope swings, we sat on rocks and sandbars as we talked, drank and snacked. Instead of staring at screens, we participated in the joy that is life being lived all around us. Perhaps I savored it even more because my lungs still hurt and I remembered how fleeting life had felt in those few minutes. I could do little other than marvel at the crazy abundance around me both in creation and in relationships with people I appreciate.