I was beginning to think, was essential to a good life, and as
inextricable from such a life as bliss. It's a great enhancer. It might
last a minute, or a month, but eventually it subsides, and when it does,
something else takes its place, and maybe that thing is a greater space.
For happiness. Each time I encountered suffering, I believed that I grew,
and further defined my capacities-not just my physical ones, but my
interior ones as well, for contentment, friendship, or any other human
real reward for pain is this: self-knowledge. If I quit, however, it would
have lasted forever, that surrender, even the smallest act of giving up,
would have stayed with me for the duration. When you felt like quitting
you had to ask yourself which you would rather live with."
Armstrong-champion cyclist, cancer survivor in his book Every Second
year's resolution was to conquer fears. But here I was on a flight from
New York to Trinidad paralysed with fear. Every bump in the sky sent my
heart shooting out of my mouth, my feet were cold, my palms sweating. I
counted every second of that four-and-a-half-hour flight. My son showed me
a fuchsia ball in the sky and I gulped, thinking of falling out. My
daughter said "look we are so high up that we can see the horizon of
a new day", pointing at the white rim around the curved blue and I
was too frozen to respond to her marvel.
were other fears to conquer: the fear of snakes, dogs, deep water,
bicycles, and then the flurry of fears human beings are hard wired and
condemned to feel: fear of failure, of change, of loss, of atrophy. There
is also finally the fear of fear.
bumps stopped and I allowed my mind to wander to New Year's Eve in Toronto
spent quietly in an apartment overlooking a park, flickering night shadows
on bare wintry trees.
about three in the morning-after we watched on TV, the wild-eyed, flushed
elation of crowds watching a ball drop, a drag queen slide down an
eight-foot shoe; after we'd drunk water to wash down the wine and the
rosemary and pepper lamb and picked up the last crumb of dessert we turned
to one another in the warm, flickering light and asked "what is your
New Year's resolution?" The men were rah rah as men are and said
things like "to stay the way I am (because I'm perfect) or "to
ask for directions". But the women weren't taking that and the way
they showed it was by being incredibly fearless. "I'd like to find a
life partner," said one woman, without blinking, confident she was
amongst friends who would help and not judge her.
like to quit smoking, lose 20 pounds and have a baby," said another
woman. "I want to remember that every minute spent worrying or
fearing is a moment lost in life and I want to write my book."
the women said was measurable, but more scarily, open to failure. Babies
and husbands and books don't just happen. They have to do with battling
all kinds of fears and perhaps being ridiculed and found wanting.
tired of the men's hedging, one woman turned to the men and said
"What are you so AFRAID of?" and then because the late hour and
the friendship and the wine allow us to take all sorts of liberties, to be
less fearless than we normally are- answered the question to their yawning
and feeling of tiredness and general subterfuge. "I know-you are
afraid to be vulnerable" and as if that weren't enough she ploughed
on, "you are afraid to be vulnerable because you think you'll get
the atmosphere in the room changed. It was as if the worst thing you could
say was said, and there was nothing left to hide. It came out then. The
husbands wanted to be the best they could be. The bachelor wanted to leave
city life and live in a farm with lovely landscape. They were finally
of this on the aircraft that was getting a little bumpy again, sending my
heart lurching but not yet to my mouth, I thought that courage has nothing
to do with being thick-skinned and everything to do with leaving yourself
open to falling-off a bike, out of the sky, in the ice. It has to do with
taking chances, and being open to failure. So I had kept last year's
resolution after all.
so in the sky I saw an image of a long corridor and a series of doors-we
walk through each one stripped to the skin, down to the bone, be it
changing jobs, or cities, bodies or partners, building bridges or walking
alone and every time we emerge victorious we gain a little more courage.
That's what Lance Armstrong means about suffering. It carves out more
space for happiness.