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Letting Go of What Ifs

May 8, 2013

Over the weekend, Oregon was hit by a trying combination of early spring heat and never-ending winds. It wouldn’t have been an issue, but I realized about halfway through Sunday afternoon that I needed to find a new place to walk Cooper. On Saturday, our normal Wind 3afternoon walk turned into what Cooper clearly deemed as a death march across the overly warm black top.

I decided to head over to Airport Park, where we had hiked before. I knew the majority of the hike would be under the comfortable shelter of trees and the path would be a gentle mix of dirt and bark. Besides, the trail is often a hotbed of smells for a curious little dog like Cooper.

About 100 feet down the trail, though, I started second guessing my decision. The little park is filled with towering maple, oak and fir trees. As Cooper happily sniffed the world around him, I heard only the gusts of wind blowing through the canopy 70 feet above and the groans of massive trunks and limbs grinding against each other. The trail was already littered with smaller twigs that had snapped under the force of nature.

For a moment, my mind filled with what ifs. What if a limb snapped above us? What if we couldn’t get out of its way? What if something happened and Cooper was left to figure out what to do next?

As I tugged Cooper away from one of the swaying trees, I immediately started to wonder where this doubt came from. I spent my childhood traipsing through the woods and never thought twice about a mighty wind moving the treetops. Had I spent too many years in cities, protected from the big, bad world that was nature? Had I been tainted by news stories of horrific, but infrequent accidents that can happen when in the great outdoors? Had I just gotten old and painfully aware of my own mortality? Had I truly become so sensitive to the world I once loved?

As we continued to walk, finding an easy rhythm of hiking and stopping and sniffing, I realized that I am far from the only one with these types of thoughts. Whether ingrained in us from a young age or learned as we’ve grown, we have chosen to fear the monster in the closet, the shark in the water and the wind in the trees rather than believe the reality before us. We are a society full of people who have stuffed our lives with thick emotional and physical padding to protect ourselves against the what ifs of the world. But while the padding may protect us from life’s little bruises, numbing ourselves with what ifs also keeps us from ever really experiencing anything. It keeps us from truly enjoying the world around us.

What ifs keep us from living.

By the end of the little hike, I knew that I had to let go of my what ifs.

It’s not about being stupid. Fear, after all, has a place in our lives. It’s about being rational. Accepting that we can’t control every situation at every moment.

Wind, after all, isn’t to be feared. It is a force that can shape and expand our worlds, just like it twists and turns the trees, ultimately guiding them to find new paths toward the sky.

Wind 1

A maple tree in Airport Park, spiraling toward the sky.

Wind 2

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