We’ve all heard the slogans and clichés: “Nothing is impossible” or Adidas’ newer version: “Impossible is Nothing”. Most of us, myself included, silently chuckle at such absurd optimism, optimism that flies directly in the face of the reality we experience. We dismiss these slogans as condensed children’s’ stories; pithy sayings short enough to be injected into our overcrowded lives; banal aphorisms used to trigger a fleeting feeling of exhilaration; simple psychological ploys used to dig up the long lost hope and wonder of an inner child. Yet as adults, we are far too skilled to fall into such traps for more than a moment. We are masters at crushing those juvenile feelings as soon as they poke their heads above the ground. Such emotions are unbecoming the modern man and would only betray a pathetic naiveté and gullibility.
I may sound sarcastic, but the truth is that I don’t believe everything is possible either. The near universal oppression of life has led me to have the same disappointments and disillusions as nearly everyone: the bitterness of betrayal, the loss of love and friendship, doors closed as one path is taken and another is forever left behind. Even worse, I have become the great eye-witness of my own shortcomings. My memory faithfully recording again and again as I exchanged long term happiness for momentary pleasure, as I folded under pressure and failed to take the right path, as I distilled my own self-reproach into a bitter venom to spit at others. Internal and external, all these memories defy enumeration and any attempted descriptions are really only a pale imitation of the actual despair and loss stored inside. With all this pain, the impossible seems all too real; a tower built, brick by brick, from life’s disappointments.
Like a castaway adrift at sea, I spend my time gazing at the impossibilities of my own life and they loom over me like a great wave. I’m too poor to waste my time on impractical pursuits, too old to become a musician, too weak to run a marathon. Yet despite all the discouragement, this past summer, I decided to take a break from what I could and should do and went out to face my impossible. My goals: to hike solo across Spain and (added later) to bike from New York to Chicago. For an overweight underachiever who spends his days playing piano and reading, such goals were laughable. Not that I blame anyone for laughing, because even though many people do much more challenging things, for me these things really were impossible: impossible in the eyes of my friends and, in truth, in my own as well.
Yet here I am the mountains crossed. How can that be? When I tell people that I hiked 500 miles across Spain and biked 700 miles to Chicago, they at first seem surprised, but quickly make a slight adjustment in their beliefs, something along the lines of “I guess he’s not as bad an athlete as I thought…”. The thing is that’s not true. I am a bad athlete. As much and as often as I have wished otherwise, I have no athletic talent. Nor do I possess great determination, a steadfast dedication to overcoming obstacles. At best, I’m a dabbler and at worst, a quitter. This isn’t self deprecating, just a fact.
So how is it possible then? What did I discover that allowed me to do things that other people, by their own admissions, “could never do”? Nothing, because the truth is that other people can do what I did. As I hiked 30 miles with a heavy pack, as I slept under the stars without a tent or sleeping bag and as I biked 110 miles through the mountains and the night, I did more losing than finding. I lost my defeatist attitude, my bitterness and hopelessness. I cast off the mindless conformity and blind chasing after materialism that society teaches us and lost my impossible.
Now the summer is over and what were once impossible mountains begin to look like hills in the distance. Is impossible really nothing after all? Maybe not in the absolute sense, but it certainly isn’t something that can be discovered by listening to the defeatist musings of one’s colleagues or one’s own downtrodden ego. Rather, for most of us, impossible is simply an illusion, the sad shadow cast by life’s disappointments and amplified by a chorus of souls lost in their own dark pessimism.
Next year, I will be participating in my first Ironman Triathlon. I’m a mediocre cyclist, a bad runner and a terrible swimmer. For those reasons and many more, I’ve once again been serenaded by a chorus of “impossible!” This time, I know that’s nonsense. So why do it? Why torture myself? It won’t change people’s opinions about me and, truth be told, I really am an untalented athlete with too many hobbies. So why then?
When I cross that finish line, my hope is that people will change their minds about the impossible, that at least one other person will stop believing in it. That one person will be bold enough to venture out and find what I found: that anyone who pushes through the shadow of learned limitations and impossibility will find the darkness doesn’t end with a towering wall or an insurmountable obstacle, rather they will find a world of great possibility, one full of hope, dreams and opportunity.“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” – Christopher Reeves