Mountaineers haunt themselves. Knowing the shapes they choose, ghosts lie in the marrow of bones and the leather of abandoned boots of those who climbed before. Unseen hands tug one’s gaiters, there’s a soft push from behind, a voice whispers in one ear. Unease keeps tent zippers tight against the zithering of frozen fingers, reaching for a memory.
Minds may stumble when one’s air or resolve grows thin, reason may fail to find a hold, but hearts, bound with blood, rope the past and the now. Knots wrap courage and trial to rogues, risk, and pain, but when our ropes jerk tight, and a voice cries, “Belay’s on!” we trust, under our skulls and far beyond our skin, to the connection in our bones.
Those who dare airless ascents are not in love with death, but a slow dance is okay, as long as when the music stops there’s breath enough to tell our story of doubt or bravery, or tell of when we stood and nothing went higher but our voices and our gladness.
Karl Eugene Reichle, 83, of Paris, Arkansas stepped from this life into the next on the evening of Sunday, June 9th 2019.
Over the past month, Karl had struggled with heart failure and subsequent illnesses until the constant struggle took its toll and he entered hospice where could feel more at peace with the end of life.
Karl was born 8 July 1935 in the small east Texas town of Era. His parents, Albert and Thelma (Roberts) Reichle owned a Gulf gas station and mechanic garage there. His first home was unpainted, and heated with a single pot-bellied stove. There wasn’t electricity, so it was lit with coal oil lamps. Life was harsh in rural, Depression Era Texas, and from that hardship, he learned to appreciate what he had and not worry too deeply about getting more.
Karl loved his country and served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1957, serving as a part of the occupying forces in Germany and later in Ft. Carson, Colorado. He was proud of his service, and since he is of German ancestry, particularly enjoyed serving in Europe.
After Army service, Karl returned to Texas and in October of 1959, he Married Eloma Roberts; within a year, the two had an only son, Roy Reichle, who after a 20-year career in the Air Force, now resides in the northern Nebraska town of Saint Helena along the Missouri River.
For over a decade, Karl lived with his son Roy, spending two years on the Island of Crete in Greece, four years at Kapaun Air Station, near Kaiserslautern, Germany, and three years at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. The two of them camped, caved, backpacked, and rock climbed all over the world together. From those experiences, Karl learned how to challenge himself and be adventurous. He sorely missed those days when he could lounge at a village on the southern shores of Crete or ride his mountain bike from the coastal plain to the crest of the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Once Roy retired from service and married his wife Brenda, Karl moved to Arkansas to find a home for himself. After a few failed landings, he finally came to roost in Paris. In his apartment complex he was known for being a friend to all the kids. He spent hours on his porch telling the children stories or just talking. He’d also throw the football or kick a soccer ball. Years later, after some of those kids grew up, they sometimes approached him and thanked him for his help. He left a fine legacy of service right to the end of his life.
Karl will be missed, as he should be, but more than anything—he should be followed in the way he served. St. Augustine said we are made by and for our Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Rest in Him, Karl. Sleep in the peaceful dreams of God.
Do your work weeks resemble downhill runs on a giant slalom?
Mine did. Thankfully, Monday’s usually started out a little slow. (At worst, they felt like a ski jump — zip-aieee!) Wednesday’s picked up the pace, and I dodged flimsy obstacles disguised as meetings. By Friday I’d be screaming downhill praying not to crash before my deadline and the weekend.
I didn’t feel in control. Every day from morning until bedtime, habits, routines, and obligations, life’s equivalent of gravity, had me in their grip and yanked me downhill until I hit terminal velocity.
Don’t get me wrong; life wasn’t all bad. Actually, the thing is, a part of me kinda liked it.
It was fun to zip headlong through the week. It made me feel important and wanted. When I met my deadlines, got the kids to all their activities, and still had time for Game of Thrones, it made me feel like an Olympian — masterful.
The problem (you see it coming, right?) is that it didn’t go that way often enough. More times than not, I’d end up scrambling after a new deadline, weaving through traffic yelling at my stressed-out kids and the jerk who just cut me off, and wondering, “What am I doing?”
Unlike the Olympics, my downhill lifestyle didn’t end after three runs and ninety seconds of nerve-wracking excitement. It kept going. And even though it’s exciting, I noticed that the days blurred together as much as scenery going by at ninety miles an hour. Life is short enough, and no matter how thrilling, to lose so much of it to speed proved untenable.
Taking the Lift
I needed to change my life to match the way winter athletes preserve their performance. Once a skier speeds across the finish line in her magnificent spray of snow, there’s a built-in break. She has to ride the lift back up.
Downtime is built into the process. While taking the lift, a skier relaxes and takes in the scenery around him. He reviews the track and his last run from a new, higher perspective. He takes the time to rest, reflect, and plan, which is what everyone, not just an athlete, needs in order to perform at their best week after week. What my ragged nerves needed was an opportunity for retreating a little from life’s frenetic pace.
So, for my “Taking the Lift” I looked into meditation or mindfulness, which is more than just resting. It’s a conscious, nonjudgmental focus on one’s body and surroundings. The practice has grown over the past few years as it has gained scientific backing and become more mainstream. It’s a simple meditation method that can be associated with a spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no need for a mantra or indoctrination into a religion. All it takes is a little time and some patience.
You really don’t even have to give up the excitement and thrill of working hard or only work half-days. To have a beneficial effect, even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in better thinking and anxiety control (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012.) There is one caveat: to reap maximum benefits of mindfulness, it truly needs to be a practice, meaning that it must occur regularly and often. So, it’s not a once a week kind of thing. It’s daily.
But what if sitting in dark rooms and simply being aware of your breathing sounds boring because you feed on activity? Perhaps keeping a journal is more your style. Journaling is less touchy-feely method for “taking the lift,” and allows those who enjoy structured, strategic processes to direct their focus on accomplishments, gratitude, and reflect more deeply on what they’re committed to doing better.
Don’t think that this is just another article about being a better worker. Like mindfulness, keeping a journal provides more benefit to practitioners than improved productivity. Personal writing is yet another way to recover from and cope with anxiety and stress. It is another way to “take the lift,” restore your body and mind, plus preserve your physical health.
Everyone knows that athletes need to train their bodies, but what about their emotional side? Annie Hart, an Olympic cross-country skier, uses journaling to work through the mental aspect of high-pressure racing. In an interview for FasterSkier.com, an on-line magazine, she talked about having “a really hard time shaking off bad races, and ended up carrying negative feelings from one weekend to the next. And I can tell you that there is no amount of physical training that can surmount that.”
The magic of daily journaling works for everyone: introverts, extroverts, athletes, or writers. Whenever the gravity of your days has been hurtling you downhill so fast that you feel out of control, take a few minutes to write about what’s bothering you. Shake out your feelings onto the safe privacy of the page and explore some possibilities for improving your life.
However you decide to integrate “taking the lift” into your daily life, whatever method: mindfulness, journaling or something else, it won’t always be easy. No matter what it is you choose, there will be days when you will not want to do it. Days when you’ll be tired, angry, or perhaps in pain. That’s when you fall back on habit and ritual — it’ll get you through the crashes, injuries, or defeats that are sure to come.
Make your start by identifying with your practices. In the same way you identify with being someone who’s on time for work, or being someone who values family. In your mind, become the kind or person who meditates. Be someone who journals. By identifying yourself with your practice, it will grow to become part of who you are, not something separate. This way, you’re not reliant on anything so fickle as willpower. Just be yourself.
Not everyone can be an Olympic athlete, but all us, even the most sedate desk-jockey, can be under difficult pressures and technological advances have turned many of us in the modern working world into downhill racers. Rather than continually speeding through life, be like those admirable men and women in Pyeong Chang and remember to Take the Lift after each run: relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.
As I drive along the dirt road home, thoughts settle over me like a high cloud cover. Right now, those thoughts center on how to reach more people with my writing. It’s a New Year, so my mind, like many other peoples’, has turned toward improvement. I’ve been putting in the time, but for years now, whenever I post, all I hear are crickets.
I don’t always post enough, and that’s one of my resolutions–to write more blogs and poems. Nevertheless, I’ve ridden this creative road for a long time, and I feel like a kid who’s driving his parents crazy with questions like, “Where are we going?” and “When are we gonna get there?” The problem is, I’m the kid, plus the driver, and I don’t have any answers.
With each passing year, it seems to grow less possible to penetrate the time-consuming barriers of school sports, televised entertainment, and social media. Even friends and family report back to me that they can’t spare the five-minutes it would take to read a blog post. They’re caught up in a whirlwind of activity gluttony, filling the belly of their day with so much to do that a wafer thin five minutes would cause it to explode.
Maybe, I’m just whining, but sometimes I think when people say they don’t have time to read my blog, it’s the equivalent of those times when a woman would tell me, “I can’t go out with you. You’re too good a friend.” Yeah. Uh Huh. Sure.
Maybe I’m talking to the wrong audience or not speaking the cultural dialect. Perhaps I’m missing something crucial about where to set up my soap box. Or maybe I’m just not good enough of a writer to hold anyone’s interest. That one scares me the most.
In response to those fears, I have signed up for a four-week course on blogging, plus a couple of short video courses on writing non-fiction and memoir. So, rather than just sitting on my hands and wishing for solutions, I am making attempts toward learning more and gaining some experience. However, what I still fear is that it’s not a skill issue, but more of being one tiny voice in a sea of voices. I sometime’s feel like a low-magnitude star over the bright lights of a city. Even if the residents look up, they aren’t going to see me.
Above me as I drive, a break in the clouds appears and a few stars shine through. Here in the country, they are bright and clear. An achy feeling, like the pang that rises to meet the lonesome sound of a train whistle, stabs me. Any time I see the stars so clear that I feel like I could touch them, that same ache expands in my chest. I’ve always wanted to be like the crew of the Starship Enterprise and “boldly go where no one has gone before.” So far, no luck. I haven’t gone anywhere.
Even though I’ve been sending emails, hitting the social media, and posting more, my blog and poetry remain in dry dock, where I sIave for hours making repairs and modifications. Hoping I can get out among the stars. I haven’t made it yet, but the ache to write is still strong enough, or to be totally honest, my need for being read keeps me behind the keyboard.
The break in the clouds still lies overhead, and I keep an eye on the stars framed there. While random, they stir stronger emotions than any painting or teenage ballad. The stars and writing call me like sirens. I can’t stop. And while I may be only destined to keep going in order to be crushed on the rocks–it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep dreaming of when my personal USS Enterprise of creativity will settle on the teeming public shores and be welcomed at last.
So, I’ll keep boldly going–until I reach the stars or I run out of warp drive, whichever comes first.
Only If Christmas lives in your heart, will you find it underneath your tree.
Long ago, and probably still does in some places, the first sign of Christmas emerged from the Church’s liturgical year and from behind the pulpit. Priests and pastors prepared their expectant flocks for the nativity by marking time in advent, an opportunity to contemplate the great gift of Jesus the Savior, the state of one’s worthiness, and the hope for his second coming.
During this time, the gifts, feasting, and family gatherings were physical symbols of a spiritual reality. The entire holiday centered on and observed the birth of Jesus, God’s gift for humankind’s salvation. We feasted on God’s providence, shared those gifts, and gathered in solidarity and strength against coming winter.
Over time, as you surely know, the world grew more capitalist in nature, and those symbols became something businesses took advantage of. Our sincere spirituality and love for friends and family gave them opportunities for instilling in us a very profitable guilt.
Today, the early signs of what is called “the holiday season” begin as business men and women open the advertising floodgates from every media outlet and their stores prepare lavish displays of tinsel, lights and cottony snow. Their goal is to entice buyers to spend their earnings by making them aware of how little money they need to fulfill their dreams and how much more they’d spend elsewhere.
I cringe a little when someone asks me, “How was your Christmas?” I know they mean well, but they’re not asking me about my holiday in a spiritual sense. For many people, maybe most, Christmas is only gifts, family gatherings, and feasting. None of those are wrong. But without the underpinnings of the Christ story, they are fleeting pleasures that miss the permanence that underlays the season.
Without that permanence, there’s often a post-Christmas let down, poignantly expressed by best-selling author, Jeff Goins, as a kind of lament. He writes, The (post-Christmas) mixed emotions collide and cloud our vision. Was it the best day of the year, or the worst? Did we find the true spirit of Christmas and recapture child-like wonder? Or did we lose another piece of our innocence to the cynicism of adulthood?” Even if you aren’t a Christian, the actions taken during Christmas depend on something deeper in order to not suffer from a cheapening futility.
But Christmas doesn’t have to suffer from the cheapening merchandising of the holiday. It can be revitalized by restoring the symbols and transforming our intent.
I have a suggestion. Instead of cringing, taking the easy way out and avoiding the truth, what about donating to a charity? Then you can tell people, “My holiday was good. I donated my time/my talent/my money, to Amnesty international/Women’s Shelters of America, Etc.” Wouldn’t that be better, turning yourself into a beacon of light instead of being disingenuous?
Our small efforts may seem futile in the face of searing family memories and worldly realities, but the world has always had dark places in it. And every life been touched by loss. Those realities, as Jesus said, will be with us always. We have to press on.
I’m not suggesting that these common tragedies are unworthy of deep feelings. I suggest grieving in the light instead of the shadows. Honor your lost and do something in their name, work with them side by side once more.
As far as the hard realities, shine your light of charity and love into what crannies you can reach, but don’t blacken your holiday with what’s beyond your control–leave that to a greater omniscience than your own.
The experience of every holiday is personal rather than societal. Even though I am inundated with ads and other influences, they flow over me like water because I see them for what they are. You see them truly, too. Let them pass unheeded. The experiences I share with my family have nothing to do with that falseness. I purchase gifts with a sincere eye for each person’s needs and hopes. We decorate our home to celebrate the joy of gratefulness we feel. After all, every holiday begins and ends in your own heart.
I’m pretty sure it has to do with the type of reading I do, but I’ve noticed the internet is currently flooded with articles about how to achieve excellence: in sports, at productivity, design, even relaxation. Rebel Power Yoga, anyone? (Really) Everyone is all about improvement, and at the top of the heap is where everyone wants to be. That’s where you gain money, recognition, friends, all of those things our culture teaches us to want. Nirvana’s on the peak. Climb up and discover your validation for the hours, the very-life, you traded for it. On one level, I have no problem with this. I’m kind of a perfectionist. It takes real, conscious effort for me to turn away from striving to be excellent, but I do. Why? because I’ve found that turning away, at least on occasion, is healthy.
Excellence is a classic example of “the razor’s edge.” It’s a precarious walk, and while it’s good to excel at what you do, and to be rewarded is fulfilling on many levels, monetarily, emotionally, and even spiritually, there is a darker side to it.
The Dangers of Excellence
There’s an enormous time and energy commitment to excellence. Superior performance doesn’t just happen; being the best takes crushing effort and sacrifice. I remember striving to maintain a 4.0 GPA and preserve my scholarship in college. My wife and I were newly married, and over the years of my undergraduate teaching program, we had two children. Most of the time, all she saw of me for two semesters a year was the top of my head as it hovered over textbooks and in front of our computer screen. I absorbed tons of information and, besides Pedagogy and Lit Analysis, I learned that if you burn the midnight oil consistently–you end up in the dark.
My ultimate dark was the metaphorical one of clinical depression, and it stayed with me for years afterward, and even now, it haunts my mind like some kind of backstage ghost. Long days of little sleep, no play, and pressure to perform killed every happiness in my life like a matador slays a bull. I had kept my head down and charged at perfection, but like the hallucination it is, excellence stepped easily to the side until I lay bloody and gasping in the dirt.
A Pearl of Great Price
While striving for excellence doesn’t always end with having to take a happy pill for the rest of your life, there are always costs. In the Christian Bible there’s a parable about a merchant who finds a “pearl of great price” and sells all he owns in order to buy it. If you fail to maintain a broader perspective in your pursuits, excellence will demand you trade everything else in life to achieve it. Is that what you want and do you know what you’re really striving for?
You do need to examine and discern the reality of what you’re pursuing. When you’re standing at that pinnacle, what will be the scene and will you be happy there? For example, as a personal trainer, I know how to ensure someone can attain the fashionable physical peak–washboard abs. But when someone says they want them, I make a point to ensure they are aware of the work and the payoff, and each person’s genetic and lifestyle differences are going to make the level of effort unique to them.
The Hyped Possibility
Part of the current misunderstanding about excellence arises from famous entrepreneurs who have turned to writing about their success, and they have all kinds of prescriptions for success: lists, morning routines, meditations. And these impresarios will tell you, “I’ve interviewed dozens of billionaires, and they all have this one secret in common!” Or “Do this morning routine for twenty minutes in the morning and your life will change.” Uh…huh.
All of them will tell you there’s time, but there really may not be as much as they claim. Often writers say, “Well, if you take eight hours away for sleeping and eight hours away for work, that still leaves you eight hours.” However, once you calculate in necessities of living like, commute time, shopping time, cooking time, religious/spiritual obligations, time to be fully present with your spouse or other committed relationship, school meetings and sporting events, etc, all “extra” time evaporates.
What’s an Achiever to Do?
The call to action? Be excellent at fewer pursuits. Don’t try to be mother of the year and champion chief-executive at the same time. That’s a recipe for years of therapy. Another step to take? Tune into what you want for yourself more and tune out all the “should chatter” from T.V. , magazines, blogs, and news feeds. Those voices do not know you or your unique situation. And sometimes, there’s a level of natural ability involved that is either there or not. Sorry, but it’s true; we’re all different and that sometimes means people are just better at something than we are.
Pursuing excellence is good. But examine closely what you want for yourself. Seek out your deepest reasons for wanting to reach beyond good enough. Remember those who are close and intimate to you. They will be on for the ride. Make sure they want to go. Lastly, and most important–love the process of your pursuit as much as the end product. That way, even the daily work will be something that will make you happy.
Everyone has a natural rhythm. In my seasonal cycle, mountains rise in me like rivers rise in the spring. When the snow melts off the streets and the trees open their first buds, dreams of walking through deep valleys and struggling up steep, mountainous slopes flood my sleep, washing away the winter’s months of stillness. It’s difficult waiting for early summer. I squirm like a kid waiting for Christmas. I make lists of maps and look for places to walk away from empty talk, garish skylines of aluminum, and streets lined with black staves of wire instead of trees.
But, no matter how anxious I am to dive into the first national park I see, when I do go, there’s always a waiting period before I can settle into the trail’s rhythm. On those initial miles, I feel out of sync with nature, and it’s not until I’m two or three days deep into a long-awaited hike that my body will break through the surface tension holding me captive. My muscles and nerves relax and suddenly, I’m no longer drowning in questions or choices that don’t really belong to me. From that point, I am newborn and can rise into the scenery and the silence, while the sun’s warmth on my skin laps away the last vestiges of civilization.
Technology and Syncopation
As I slip into every day’s simple cycle, I am reminded of how in the past, for tens of millennia, when the sun went down—the world fell into a darkness we could not see into. What was out there, silent, watching, hungry, was a mystery that no one dared delve into. The night was for taking shelter and sleeping until the sun returned and lit our way again.
We have undone this rhythm with lights on everything. Don’t get me wrong or label me a Luddite; I enjoy having lights to read by, music to listen to, and television to watch, but the fact remains that we have thrown off our natural rhythm, and that exacts a price.
For mostly economic reasons, we have imposed our will on nature’s rhythm, the beat of which has formed us since the beginning of time. This technological syncopation has entered our minds and seriously thrown us off. As an Air Force member, I worked shift work for nearly twenty years, and I remember reading research from the late Seventies that showed the ill effects working night and day had on physical and mental health. Today’s research continues to reinforce those earlier studies.
Paying Modernity’s Price
In 2016, Medical News Today, an international publication for health news, published the results of a meta-analysis that showed shift work posed an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and a second study indicated that shift work impaired brain functions like: memory, cognitive speed, and overall brain power. Apparently, we cannot throw off the rhythms that have formed us without threatening our health.
Carla V. Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, said that ” television, computers and longer hours of social activity also contribute to what is referred to as “social jet lag,” as well as many new diseases and disorders that are more prominent in Western societies.” Depression is higher among shift workers. Plus, many of these disorders occur in those who work longer hours than usual. Even too much overtime throws one’s system into a tailspin.
And what can set our mental health back on an even flight path? The outdoors. Being surrounded by nature has been shown again and again to reduce people’s stress, increase their cognitive ability and creativity, and strengthen their ability to focus their attention. Putting aside time to be outside in a pleasant environment shifts our attention away from ourselves and away from negative emotions. Even something as simple as a walk in your local park has been shown to increase your attention, calm stress, and lower your blood pressure.
Remember when I said it took two or three days for me to slip into the rhythm of the trail? Meet David Strayer. He is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention, and he talks about something he calls the “three-day effect.” Strayer demonstrated it with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. “The three-day effect,” Strayer says, “is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough.”
So there’s scientific proof for what the early environmentalist, John Muir intuited. He said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ” But however beneficial to my health, I will always venture into the wild not because science says I should, but rather how it makes me feel connected to something larger and so very alive. Entering the rhythm of the natural world resonates within us as humans. Nature restores our spirits, heals our bodies, and soothes our weary souls.