Growing up my dad would tell us we were descendants of Vikings. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I could tell he was proud of it. He has stated that he would like a traditional Norse burial. At sea, replete with a funeral pyre lit from shore. I have always liked the idea that our bloodline is one of great travelers and warriors. That we stem from a people who have conquered hard things.
Last year my dad did some research. At Christmas, he presented us with a copy of our family history. The type of history that goes back before the Black Plague, before the Pilgrims landed, before serfdom went out of fashion.
After opening the gift, I folded the sheets of paper and put them my journal. I didn’t look at them again for nearly six months. And to be honest, I didn’t really take them out six months later. They fell out at the airport when I was heading home to see my new twin nephews. I reread the history of a people who conquered northern France and smiled thinking of my nephews. They are the latest generation to take on difficult things.
It all started a few weeks ago. D and I decided to drive south. I needed to get out of my head. And the desert is good like that. The desert is not quiet. Your feet break open the topsoil. They sink in the sand. They move rocks to a clatter. The wind circles your ears and rattles what grasses have made it this far. It reminds you that you are not alone. Even though you feel like it. Even if you want to be.
The desert reminds you it has been here longer. It has witnessed a millennia of change in its days. It has fallen up. It is falling down. And it will change again in a few thousand years when you are long gone and nothing but dust in someone else’s tent. It reminds you that you – and your problems – are quite small. It reminds you that conditions are not always easy. But things grow. And they die. And in between there are some blue skies overhead.
When the boys made their debut into the world they were a whopping 6.11 pounds combined. Usually when babies are born there are phone calls that trigger phone calls. An eruption of joy that quickly crosses time zones. First pictures are zipped across state lines. Then there times when phone calls come and breaths are held.
You hang up thinking surgery is not so bad. You know surgeons. You trust surgeons. You believe in science. So you decide not to worry about the surgery. Then you think of your sophomore biology class and how you dissected baby pigs. And you realize the scale of your nephews. You examine the stats and hope you are on the right side of the numbers.
And then you pray in case you aren’t. You pray because you didn’t really do well in biology and you don’t really understand what is happening and you need something to do other than cry in the garden beside your last wilting cucumber plant. You already killed five of the original six and the remaining one is sun-scorched. Each new tendril it shoots seems to fry in the Utah heat. But new leaves keep budding. And you keep hoping maybe one of these days one will take.
Thirty-six hours later you arrive at the start of another long 36 hours. You have 200 miles to cover with five other people and you are already tired. But you grind out mountain passes and long stretches of cold highway at 5 am because that is what you said you would do. You tell your teammates that the stories of your life – the best ones – emerge from accomplishing hard things. You think of your tiny nephews and decide they will be great storytellers.
You send them succulents in lieu of flowers. They are small and hardy– like them. And your write them a note, promising them that life will not always be easy. But it will not always be so hard either.
You know there will be tough climbs, long bouts where you push forward looking for some sign of progress, or at least change. There will be periods of coasting. Miles of downhill you know will not last forever. Sometimes a small hill will break you. Other times you will discover your legs can carry you further than you imagined. Fifty miles or more. You will recover and search for another mountain to ascend.
A few hours later I finished the race and boarded a plane, stepping off to meet these tiny Vikings. I peered through their incubators and watched them breath on their own and stretch limbs no wider than my thumb. They occasionally opened mouths the size of dimes and released cries I could hear from the other side of the glass. They are the most beautiful displays of life I have ever seen.