During my recent vacation to the West Coast, I did “The Grind,” a mountain trail that is a 2,630 step staircase to the 3,700 feet summit. I had to stop frequently, mostly to look up and swear to myself, but my keeper and I did it in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Behind me, an older gentleman crossed the summit threshold with his two adult children, who were beaming with pride as they clapped and took pictures. They caught my lingering glance and told me that today was his 80th birthday and that he had just beaten a previous time from decades ago. Between gasps of air, I offered him my congratulations and a high-five: We did it!
Perhaps it’s odd that I felt a kinship with a stranger fifty years older than me, but I felt a oneness in our having overcome physical adversity that day. Two years ago, stairs had been a dreaded and slow process under the painful heaviness of joint and chest wall inflammation. Unassisted, two flights of stairs could take me 15 minutes or more on a particularly bad day. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I had finished “The Grind” within average time. I was elated! On this gruelling, borderline ridiculous physical task, I was an “average person,” not a sick person who did well considering. I felt like yelling from the mountain top: “Hey, everybody!! Guess what? I’m average!!!!”
It’s been years since I’ve arrived at the emotional summit of climbing a mountain by my own physical power. In my few experiences, I’ve always come to a moment where I see myself in a way I never have before. That day, I saw myself as something that, after being diagnosed with Lupus 10 years ago, I thought I would never have the ability to be again: A normal, average person. Being average has never felt so awesome.