Climb the Andes, Oh Snail, but Slowly

Colombian Andes, 1986

Colombian Andes, 1986

OK so Kobayashi Issa’s original eighteenth century haiku was:

Climb Mount Fuji,                                      Oh snail,                                                     But slowly, slowly.

Though in a blog about Colombia, the Andes seem more appropriate.

After the worst of my illness, I examined what was left of my life. I couldn’t do anything strenuous. I’d lost my career and virtually everything I enjoyed, as well as chores I’d never previously liked but would now be glad to be capable of doing.

After nine months in a wheelchair, my legs collapsing every time I tried to stand, I gradually regained the capacity to walk. To recover a lost ability like this is an amazing experience. I wanted to keep walking and walking, like a decrepit Forest Gump.

Concentrating on what I could do rather than what was lost to me, I fancied that as long as I went slowly, took breaks and rested sufficiently before and after, perhaps I could walk long distances. The snail climbs the Andes (or Mount Fuji) eventually, even if it takes a long time.

I also projected forwards on the assumption that my improvement would continue at the same rate. Maybe within a year I would be able to walk as far as I liked, provided I took it slowly.

It was around this time that my husband and I began talking about the possibility of the Colombia trip. We started planning the details, first as fantasy, later as reality. I even allocated six days for a long trek I desperately wanted to do – a little more time than is generally needed to cater for my slow pace. My husband didn’t comment much on that part of the itinerary for some time.

As our departure drew nearer and my improvement plateaued rather than continuing at its projected pace, he started dropping hints that he thought I wouldn’t be up to it. I resisted his suggestions to remove it from our itinerary – I’d see how I felt at the time.

But the world has a habit of closing in on you just when you think it is opening up. I had to face the reality that even though my legs no longer collapse on standing, I can only walk a short distance before my symptoms worsen. With great reluctance, I deleted the trek from our itinerary. It was only when I replaced it with gentler activities that I began to feel better. I realised that the loss of one thing meant the gain of others that would not have been possible without the loss.

Colombia, 1986

Colombia, 1986

Although there is always a natural desire to push the boundaries, I am trying to live within my limitations. On this trip, I will avoid strenuous activity and stay within my limits during activities I can do to some extent or for a short time. I will resist the temptation to dance or walk too far and I will drink bottled water (which I’d previously thought was for wusses). I will live in slow motion and delight in others’ more adventurous activities.

That alien virtue of acceptance is so difficult, but must be mastered to achieve a life of equanimity despite chronic illness. This snail may not make it to the summit after all, but I can enjoy the view from my base camp (or hammock), or maybe from just a little way up.

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2 Responses to Climb the Andes, Oh Snail, but Slowly

  1. Jools says:

    I’m liking the Zen/Buddhist wisdom of your posts… a very healthy attitude. And something we can all learn from too.

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