Living Inside a Mistake

Philosophical/celiac post follows.  Minimal bike content.

If you’ve never listened to This American Life, you should consider listening to it…at least once.  It is one of my favorite weekly experiences.  I download the podcast on Monday morning, and listen to it in the car on my way to and from work–it makes drive time a bit more enjoyable.

Anyhow, 2 weeks ago, they had a “live” show that was simulcast across the country, live in theaters.  I went to the theater to see the event with some of my friends, and was blown away by the stories told.  This week, the podcast is a condensed version of that show.  The theme of the show was invisible made visible…which played well with a movie screen showing the acting (and dancing, and speaking, etc.), but I was concerned with how that very visual show would translate into an audio-only podcast.  The first ~10 minutes of the podcast featured a father who has lost his eyesight, talking about a visit to a hotel.

Listening to the podcast does much more justice to his story, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version for those who are opposed to NPR:

Blind father, traveling by himself, goes into an unfamiliar hotel room.  He starts looking for a phone.  He searches the whole room, with his hands, miming and groping the walls and everything in the room to an illicit degree.  (His words, not mine).  He starts at the bed, and goes almost all the way around the room, past an end-table, a couch and coffee table, a desk, the door and the bathroom…until he reaches the bed again.  He cannot find a phone.  He even searches the bathroom.  At this point, he decides there is no phone, abandons his search, and goes to bed…only to be awoken by a phone call.  He follows the sound of the phone to the couch and coffee table and, quite surprised to now find a phone there, answers it.  He is surprised because he had previously searched the table (groped to an illicit degree) and found no phone.  After his phone call, he goes to get back into bed–and hits a wall.  A wall where the bed should be.  He is now confused and somewhat alarmed.

Long story short, the room had an alcove in one corner, and the alcove had a second couch and coffee table, and the missing phone.  When he felt the walls, he started at the bed, and when he circled the room and reached part of the bed again, he stopped searching…so there was a 4′ long stretch of wall that he had not searched, and that was the entryway to the alcove.  The couch and table he had found were on the left side of the bed.  The alcove (and second couch and table) were on the right side of the bed.  So when the phone rang and he answered it, a bit groggy, he hadn’t realized that he was going into the alcove to answer the phone.  He assumed that the couch and table were the couch and table he remembered from the original search that evening (left of the bed)…so when he turned right from the alcove couch (right of the bed) and expected to hit bed, he hit wall instead.

The beautiful concept that ensues is his discussion of living inside a mistake.  Because he cannot see, he doesn’t know exactly what the room looks like.  When he feels the walls, he plots out the room in his mind.  In his mind, there’s a wall in one corner.  In reality, there’s an alcove there.  But unless the phone had rung, he never would have found the alcove.  He would have continued to assume that there was a wall there, and that would have been his reality.  To me, that’s a stunningly beautiful, shocking, remarkable reflection on how he lives in a very visual world.

What I love about the concept is how we all live inside mistakes, in our own ways.  For me, last summer, I would do a hard ride and feel like absolute crap afterwards.  I would assume that I was low on sustenance, and would eat a big load of pasta, washed down with a couple beers.  And then I’d feel even worse, and various unpleasant experiences would follow.  But this was my first summer riding hard, and I assumed that this was just part of the experience of learning to ride harder.  I assumed that you’re supposed to feel like crap, get sick, and suffer the various discomforts that I was going through.  I assumed that the weight loss was the result of riding, as was the constant fatigue.

Getting diagnosed as a celiac was the proverbial ringing phone in my life.

Where there once was a wall, I now see an alcove.  I’m (barely) holding weight, between 145-150.  Notwithstanding the ton of riding and other exercise I’m doing, I’m not putting on any mass…but at least I’m not backsliding.  I feel a lot better than I did last year, although I still feel like there are times when I just completely run out of energy, or when I feel as though I’m not progressing as rapidly as I’d like to.  The paradox, then, is determining whether my current reality as a celiac is the way that the world really is, or if there’s something out there that I’m missing.  Am I seeing a wall somewhere that’s really an opening?  Is there something I should be doing from any discipline (dietary, health, exercise, medication, other) that would improve my performance and progress?  Is my problem that I need to put on more miles, or that I need more recovery time?  For the past period of about a week, I rode Saturday, Sunday, Monday, lifted Tuesday, rode Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and lifted today.  Some of those were big efforts (the Wednesday ride stands out, for example) and some were easy recovery efforts (Sunday–the Scarlet Letter.)  Time will tell.

In the past few months, I’ve challenged a lot of assumptions in nearly all aspects of my life.  Through that time, I’ve been continually shocked by how often my assumptions are dreadfully wrong, and equally shocked by how often they are right.  But perhaps most disconcerting is the absolute disconnect between the perceived strength of my assumptions and the assumptions’ actual validity.  Just because I strongly believe an assumption is true does not make it so.

So am I riding into a wall, or into a previously unseen alcove?  Rather than sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring, I’m going to keep trying to progress forward.  Either way, there is some hope in knowing that I can continue pushing and will eventually, one way or another, find out.


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