The problem with pretending to be superhuman is that eventually you have to admit that you’re not. Such was the case today. Like many people, I often suffer from a sense of inadequacy. I find myself teaching a class or photographing a subject for an assignment and rather than feeling like a consummate professional I imagine myself as a child playing dress up. Still, I grin and bear it in an attempt to keep my mask from slipping and anyone noticing how I really feel.
True, not the most authentic approach, but what’s that common expression – “fake it until you feel it” – I wholeheartedly embrace it. Yet, sometime honesty must prevail, so when my student asked to meet today and go for a walk, knowing her love of hiking and biking, I informed her at the start that as much as I would love to take a casual stroll with her and catch up, I lacked her stamina. “As long as you’re aware, we should be fine,” I said.
When I arrived at her house we spent a good hour chatting in front of the teeniest, quaintest stove in her new writing cottage, when I finally asked her if we were going to go for a walk. She said yes and the first several yards went fine – flat, smooth surface, easy chatter and then, I realized that was probably enough. Yup, just a few short yards and I realized that a winter of being indoors writing articles and blogging had left me sadly out of shape. Add to this a history of bone spurs, Achilles tendinitis and improper footwear and I was ready to head back to that nice little stove and warm my toes. No such luck, my student walked The Loop and The Loop we were set to do.
The Loop started with a climb up Mt. Everest. Lifting my head to stare at its peak, I realized I was on an expedition. We hiked in silence for a few paces and then I felt the need to chatter to try to disguise the fact that I was grossly out of breath. As you might guess, this didn’t work, but still we climbed on. Although the day was freezing, I could feel my bangs sticking to my forehead and my sweater getting damp with perspiration. We made it to the pinnacle, took a turn, and there was the Everest of Everests – another vertical climb. “The Loop’s three miles,” my student informed me. Do you know what it’s like to lose all hope? I can now answer that question in the affirmative.
I’m not sure how much of the three miles we had already done, but I could safely say that if I had tried to finish it I would not be coming back alive – I was already seeing stars. My student must have sensed something was wrong because she told me that we could turn back anytime I wanted and that’s when my inner superhuman kicked into gear. I was her teacher after all, should I really reveal my human frailty?
“Let’s make it to the top,” I said, pointing to the mirage in the distance. Fortunately, I could not tell how far away it actually was because my eyes and nose were running from the cold. Soon I could see the face of Death and feeling his warm, sweaty breath upon my cheeks, I attempted to take a deep breath – but found I had no lungs left – and squeaked out, “I think we had better turn around.”
Fortunately, we did, although my student continued to ask me questions all the way back despite my panting, high pitch responses (I was whistling like a tea pot trying to take in air.) Yet, I answered. Like a soldier on the battlefield I endeavored to show no weakness. I’m not sure where this tendency began, but it is a hard habit to break. Obviously, my student had not been oblivious to my struggle and still I pretended to be Wonder Woman.
I read a quotation attributed to Georgia O’Keefe on Facebook today. She said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” I love this sentiment, and I realized that I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, too, but sometimes I let this lead me to do things I never wanted to do or should do in the first place, all in an effort to keep my game face on. It may be foolish, but it’s human and as humorous as this tale may be, it has an underlying moral, well, maybe two.
One, if you’re going to play the superhero at the very least you should have a cape, a mask, and a superpower and two, I really need to get in shape. I promised my student I’d be back for a walk this summer. Some people never learn.
Writing Prompt: When have you tried to be superhuman? Write about it.