The Road Rarely Traveled
Normally, I prefer to blog about my professional life as an author and teacher and to keep my personal life to myself because, really, who cares? Yesterday, however, was a day I have to write about, if only to put the experience into words for myself. Along with nine friends, I completed a ten mile run, which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a big deal. What made this run special, however, was that six miles of it was over the frozen waters of the South Passage in Lake Erie between South Bass Island and Catawba Island.
When asked to participate, my reaction was “Are you crazy!? Subsequently, it became the first response of nearly everyone I told of our plans. Anyone who has lived along the lake knows the treachery of the ice. The truism holds that “There is no such thing as safe ice.” An admonition, by the way, that remains true, and I would share with anybody who wishes to duplicate our adventure.
So why go? Unlike some of my buddies, I am not an adventure seeker or an adrenaline junkie. What I am is a patsy for peer pressure and someone easily cajoled into the stupidest of risks with the most childish and inane assaults on my manhood. I am not proud of my easy submission to macho cajoling, but I am what I am. What I couldn’t get out of my head was the thought of listening to their stories recounting their day on the ice for the next twenty-five years and regretting that I wasn’t there. Remember, it’s the sins of omission, not commission, that weigh most heavily in retrospect.
We did our research and learned that the ice was as thick as anyone in the area could remember. No, it wasn’t necessarily safe, but it was never going to be safer. So, I started thinking: if all I ever did in life was what was entirely safe and without risk, what would I ever do? I may as well not get out of bed in the morning if that is going to serve as my criteria for taking action. In the past, I’d certainly never have played sports, asked a date to the prom, fallen in love, had children, changed jobs, written books, etc.
Then, on Friday, as I was still discerning the wisdom of going, we were studying Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych in World Lit., and I quoted the central theme from the story: “Ivan Ilych’s life had been the most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” As Tolstoy intended, I found myself challenging my students to “Do something extraordinary,” and I realized that I was talking to myself. My opportunity to do something extraordinary and disrupt the all-too-often mundane progress of my own life was waiting for me out on that ice. I had to go or else come to uneasy terms with my own hypocrisy.
In the end, the experience of running through ankle deep snow over uneven ice in wind chills approaching zero degrees was ungodly awful. The life experience, however, was priceless. I’ll never forget the bewildered looks of the rugged ice fisherman, covered from head to toe in Carhartt products, as we ran past their shanties, or the snowmobilers, rolling into Tipper’s in Put-in-Bay like bikers at Sturgis inside their helmets, boots, and state-of-the-art cold weather gear. They stared dumbfounded at us in our running shoes and clothes. “You did what?” was their near-unanimous response to our declaration of “We ran here.” Between the three groups – fishermen, snowmobilers, and runners – it was like Larry, Curly, and Moe staring at each other and trying to figure out who is the “stoogiest.” I’m pretty sure we won.
I said at the beginning that this entry wouldn’t pertain to my professional career; however, I’ve already mentioned how this experience interacted with my teaching, and I know it will forever be a source of writing material. In fact, I already have two historical novels in various stages of completion that contain scenes that take place on Lake Erie ice. Now, I can write with greater poignancy and authority about that reality.
Seals and Crofts once mistakenly sang, “We May Never Pass This Way Again.” Their error was in the use of the subjunctive mood. In fact, we will never pass this way again. They should have used the declarative mood. With that understood, how could I have not ventured out onto the ice with great friends for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure?