Last night I met up with other people who had President’s Day off. They had spent the whole day hiking and eating and enjoying the beauty and adventure Marin has to offer. I told them they had a Teddy Roosevelt President’s day.
I met them for a bonfire out at Muir Beach, where we cooked Cajun sausage, made smores, and watched the moon come and go from view. Every now and then, the fog would part, revealing the half-moon and star powder. That clear patch of sky would unfold out of the fog envelope, and as the fog came and went, we’d get the chance to read and re-read the exquisite letter of stars and moonlight. Moon-soaked waves spilled on the sand, and the bonfire tinted the sea-foam a shimmery gold as it landed. It was a great privilege to behold this kind of beauty—the kind that lays the soul bare.
I don’t love being outside, but it seems a crime to say that when nights like last night are in the mix.
At one point, a coal from the fire painfully flew in my face, which I went to brush away with sandy hands also sticky from the smores. I got the hot coal AND the sand in my eye, marshmallow on my face, and frustrated, in the midst of all that splendor, nearly snapped “This is why I don’t @*&#%$*@*&#* GO OUTSIDE!!!” By God’s grace, I was able to hold my tongue and not be too much of a jerk in my frustration.
As I was recovering from the earthy assault, I was suddenly grateful I didn’t also have to wonder if I had makeup everywhere. Someone handed me a bottle of water and I could rinse out my eye, letting the water stream down my face. I didn’t have to worry that the renegade mascara and lipstick would make me look like my next question would be a hissing “Why So SeriouS?” It was freeing.
I started to think about my hostility toward the outdoors. It’s true I deeply despise the sensations of being cold, wet, and dirty. My hatred for those is ever present, trumping whatever beauty or experience is supposed to offset those. I assure you, there’s no way around it. I’ve always been this way. I simply won’t have my best time when those three are the conditions.
But there is plenty of being outside that doesn’t depend on being cold, wet, or dirty. I live in Northern California, where the weather is great and nothing in nature here, unlike Florida, is trying to kill you. Do I really have to hate being outside so much?
No. But I do have to confess that part of my resistance to the outdoors comes from not having my usual opportunities to prove myself with proficiency or appearance.
As a non-athletic asthmatic, I have never been able to hike as fast, climb as high, or endure as long as the people who did this stuff all the time. My daily life is slow, weak, and pretty low on oxygen as a rule. When my people do outdoorsy things, even if I attend, I fall behind and it’s a lonely, difficult experience. Usually, my proficiency in any other field reduces that burden. I can perform well enough on any indoor thing to earn my way out of the loneliness and difficulty. Not to mention, I can usually perform well enough to ensure my own safety.
As a real girly girl, being outside renders some of my favorite things impractical or even detrimental. Last night, mascara and lipstick would have hindered a quick recovery from the ember episode. Hiking in high heels is suicidal. But even though being girly can be a celebration of color and beauty and design and care, it can also mean a sad preoccupation with material and physical comfort. In our quest for loveliness and caring for ourselves and people, we get lost in trying to control our circumstances. The outdoors far from affords anyone the chance to do that.
For someone like me, to love going outside means fully surrendering my performance self and my controlling self. It means putting my weakness on display for people.
Some of you hear me sputter vitriol at the thought of camping or hiking and you feel sad for me. As you should. You know what I’m missing out on when I insist on staying inside, and you feel the loss for me.
But we all have a place where we rely on our own performance or ability to control our comfort in the familiar that keeps us from experiencing God’s extravagant Beauty and Joy.
This Lent for me has been about intentionally going to the place where the performance and control have to die. God has asked us all to do that. And because God is good, and He extravagantly loves us, we find the aching beauty of moonlight beach bonfires with loving family when we get there.