Positioning of hard things

In April 2012 I biked 110 miles in 29 hours. It was the hardest, longest ride I’ve ever done. As someone who was (and still is) a wimp on hills, the steep hills of southern Indiana were ever more challenging. But this ride has had a benefit I did not expect: every other short ride I’ve ever taken is a piece of cake in comparison.

Like cereals on the grocery store shelves, this ride positioned my mind into realizing every other shorter ride wasn’t that hard. The next time I biked in a little rain or a little wind or snow or a hail storm I never thought, “Ugh, this is awful.” No, the 78 miles I did in 6 hours was awful.

I learned the other day this country once had a “scourge” of “sports mania”. Not the kind of sports-watching team-rooting mania we have today, but of people actually doing exercise.

Advancements in bicycle technology in 1890 put America into a frenzy:

From Harper’s:

It is true that women heretofore, here and there, have been trying the machines in an apologetic, shamefaced sort of way, but in this year they have boldly come to the front as riders, challenging male competition, and making a fashion of that which before was an eccentricity. …Women may ride in tights, but it is certain that men will never adopt the skirt. It is too dangerous. Man has not courage to risk the complications of an overthrow in a skirt. 

And the L.A. Times:

… In most of the States of the Union and in all the great cities, the bicycle vote has become a thing to be reckoned with. In New York it has bowled out the granite ring completely. Time was when a residence block couldn’t be paved with asphalt, even if the property-owners were agreed on footing the bill.

… Everybody knows what the bicycle is doing for the good-roads problem…. The most radical of recent legislation is the new Connecticut law (statutes of 1895), which pledges the State to pay one-third the cost of one mile of road in each town each year, if the county and the town will each pay one-third… A better device could hardly be imagined for encouraging road improvement in the poorer regions.

And this mania led Americans to more fitness, more college sports, and a healthier lifestyle. This, in turn, led to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech:

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

I try to remember this when I do hard, challenging things. It’s also helpful to remember when I find myself shirking strenuous things — mental and physical — that I know will be good for me. It’s also why I’ve developed less patience and respect for people who continue to wilt at the notion of doing something difficult.

Thoughts on hospitals and funerals

My grandmother died last Monday. We laid her to rest on Thursday between her two children, one of which was my mother. But for the last month or two, I’ve been making repeated trips to Louisville and Salem to visit with her, prepare for the funeral, and ultimately handle her estate. Going through the process as an adult instead of an adolescent like I was with mom, I have a few thoughts.

First, stop treating old people like children. Nurses and doctors would come into my grandmother’s room and call her “Miss Wilma” and always with the same tone as a kindergarten teacher. You do not need to speak to the elderly as if they have a child’s brain. My grandmother remembered every second of everything that was happening to her. Her mind never dulled, she maintained the ability to make her own decisions, and she was never childish. She helped a country fight literal Nazis and you’re talking to her like you would your dog.

Hospitals have to stop pretending they can fix every problem. Of the half-dozen doctors parading in and out of her room for months, only one said what we all knew: her age was working against her, this would likely not end well. All the others were on some Grey’s Anatomy-induced medical mission to fix every problem.

We pay nearly no attention to diet or exercise in this country. Our medical facilities are equally inept. You can’t feed an 84-year-old woman liquid pudding for a month and stand around wondering why she’s losing weight. Likewise, you can’t tether someone to a bed and scratch your head in confusion why they’re not getting up to move around.

Funerals cost a suspiciously round amount of money. Things seem to jump in increments of $1,000 at every turn.

People who show up to funerals had better be dressed for it. I felt like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino as random people paraded through my grandmother’s funeral wearing flip-flops, jeans, t-shirts, and hats. Even the preacher didn’t bother to put on a tie. Have some class — because my grandmother did despite having next to no money nearly all of her life.

Embalming is a weird thing. I don’t know why we do that. Equally odd to me is how we’ve become comfortable sticking people’s bodies into a box in the ground. It’s literally the most terrifying thing I can think of.