Falling Behind (a personal essay)

Falling Behind (a personal essay)

Falling Behind (a personal essay) 1920 1271 Caroline Bardwell
From my perspective, our human instinct is to navigate life as if we were going for a long hike on a beautiful day. Although you believe you are capable of accomplishing the task alone, you realize that it can be a great experience to enjoy alongside others and it’s probably safer. So you invite some people along that share your appreciation for the outdoors and maybe somebody just because you enjoy their company. You start off reasonably prepared in your attire, with water and snacks, and even stop to take a glance at the trail map to get your bearings. You probably look up at the sky to confirm the weather is as expected and feel appreciative for the good fortune to embark on the adventure, with an overall optimism with respect to the likely satisfaction of completing the journey. You set off on your way in fairly good spirits, talking and laughing.

After a while, though, the terrain starts to get a bit rough, with roots in the way and a steepening incline. You start to break a sweat and take off your jacket. The conversation slows amongst the group and distance starts to separate the people in your party. One friend stumbles a bit and you help them up. You both stop for a quick drink of water and continue on your way. The scenery is beautiful, but you have to plunge ahead to keep up with your ambitious group, so there isn’t time to enjoy it. Up ahead, the path gets rough and rocky, with roots and divots and overgrowth. The going is slow, but you call out to your friends and you hear them respond a little ways off, so you don’t get too concerned. The path requires so much focus though, that you soon fall behind and suddenly realize that you’ve wandered away from the trail. You try to backtrack but can’t find the spot where you were. You yell for your party, but an eerie silence reveals they aren’t nearby. You feel hurt that nobody was paying attention to your well-being, not realizing that they were focused on their own footsteps, just like you. Dusk starts to come and panic and disorientation set in. You reach in your backpack for a compass and perhaps a flashlight, but realize you didn’t pack either in your casual haste. You are fatigued and see the snacks, but the pit in your stomach keeps you from fueling your body.

In desperation, you look up to the sky to find the sun and see it peeking out from behind the clouds. You think you are able to reorient yourself to the direction of the road and shoot a quick, “Please God, help me” into the air. You gather your courage and boldly step in that direction. A while later, you hear worried voices and breaking through the thicket, you see your party, about to call for a rescue and very concerned that you were hurt, scared, and alone. Everyone is immensely grateful and relieved and vows to try harder next time not to lose sight of the path and each other and to be better prepared.

I learned this lesson the way I’ve learned many of mine – the hard way. Since I was a kid, I always acted older than my age. My parents encouraged responsibility, achievement, and perseverance and they demonstrated these values even under very challenging circumstances. Even if it took time to reach my goals, I put the work in and I was proud to see the fruits of my labor. I took on extra responsibility and relished the attention garnered from a job well done whether academically, vocationally, or in my extracurricular activities. As a card-carrying overachiever, eventually I became somewhat programmed to think that I could actually carry the world on my capable shoulders.

Turns out that’s impossible. Eventually I realized that years had needlessly gone by while I desperately tried to force the outcomes I wanted. I had mistakenly thought that if other people would just get their acts together, I could start living my life. Once I realized I couldn’t figure it out on my own and the same vicious cycles were playing out year after year, I started to chase down support and insight – church, support groups, friends, therapy, self-help books, scripture, and a lot of prayer (I already confessed to being an overachiever!). I realized I had come dangerously close to collapsing under the weight of managing my life.

Ultimately, we fail to realize that on a daily basis we need more than ourselves to survive, we need God, and we also need a community. We can’t solely rely on a few individuals to look out for us while keeping others at arm’s length, hoping that they will approach us intuitively or not wanting to burden them with our concerns. We have to learn to reach out earlier, not wait until the situation is so dire that fear and desperation set in. Be humble enough to know it’s good and natural to lean on others, especially our Creator. We need to go to Him daily in prayer, for guidance and strength. And other people can’t help unless we are honest with them about what we need. Take the extra time to seek wisdom and bring our compass, map and flashlight in case something happens.

Though I’ve been more intentional about leaning on others, I’m outgoing and it’s not as hard for me as it is for some women to reach out. Hardly a month goes by without watching one of my friends or loved ones struggling to navigate their path alone. So start listening for those people who seem to sincerely care and want to help. Think of something they can do and let them be blessed by doing it for you. If you don’t think you can get through the conversation without crying, send an email and cry away; it’s therapeutic.

A funny thing happened when I started seeking God wholeheartedly, humbly examining my own flaws and making healthy changes. Once I let go of the reins, He started to steer the wheel. And I am excited to see how the journey unfolds, because He had bigger plans for me than I could have imagined.

Caroline Bardwell

Caroline is a native of Schenectady, NY, where she works as an environmental geologist. After a period of deep spiritual transformation, she began writing poetry and reading at local poetry events. She enjoys pairing her original landscape photography with her poetry, which explores universal themes from the human experience, the natural world and faith. Poems have been published or will be published in The Society of Classical Poets, Ancient Paths, 50 Haikus, Westward Quarterly, The Faithful Creative, Up the River Journal, and Faith Hope and Fiction.

All posts by Caroline Bardwell