Some days are like walking through mud: slow, heavy footed, and messy. This winter is like walking through mud.
Quarantine, test, isolation. Isolation, test, freedom (for a while). Someone else tests. Quarantine again. Test again. Cancel plans again. Again and again and again. And again and again and again.
We’re walking through mud.
I’ve had two remarkable–and unpleasant–experiences literally walking through mud. I’m trying hard to remember them and what I learned from them.
In 2011, our family spent a week in Lake City on the banks of Lake San Cristobal, which was formed by Slumgullion Slide, an earthflow (or rather a couple of earthflows) that cap the lake’s northeast side (here). It’s mud like you have never experienced mud, mud that didn’t wash off, mud that clung to us like the theme song of a sitcom from 1986.
My kids loved it. They ran, they played, they dug, they buried each other. They could, because they were young and, well, lightweight.
Not so much me. I sank. I had to crawl to drier ground.
That was Experience #1, and this occurs to me: When walking through mud, it’s best to travel light. That’s another way of saying that a real strategy for this winter is to keep my expectations low. Don’t bring the burden of plans and high purposes, beyond what’s daily or necessary or both.
My next remarkable experience of mud happened in 2019 on an island in the Inner Hebrides. Our family was on our big vacation to the U. K. to mark my Elly’s graduation from high school. Halfway through the trip, we landed on the island of Staffa, where (like the rest of Scotland) it rains. A lot. So there’s mud. A lot. Halfway up a trail to see puffins, a woman ahead of us got her foot stuck in the mud. She wiggled and squirmed and fought that mud, complaining that she needed her shoe back. It was comical, until–
We heard a snap. It was her leg. Uh.
That was Experience #2, and here’s what comes to me: The harder we fight, the more damage we’re going to do. Life is just hard for a lot of people right now. I can wiggle and squirm and flex my autonomy muscles by not wearing a mask at Walmart or refusing to take the test that will get me back into class. Fine, but I might just be hurting myself or other people in the process.
Our co-workers, our kids, our parents, our church family, our neighbors. People are counting on us to get through this together.
These weeks ahead are going to be hard. For some, they are excruciating. We’re still saying goodbye to people we love. We’re still watching people we love struggle. Again and again and again.
Walking through mud is hard.
I’m thinking of the apostle Paul, as he’s setting out for Jerusalem. He’s saying goodbye to the elders in Ephesus, knowing that what’s ahead of him is going to be hard. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,” he says, “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
His course (dromos, a foot race) isn’t the travel route he will or won’t take. It’s his ability to testify along the way.
It’s not the mud finally that defines the journey. It’s how we walk through it.