Take a Hike. I Mean It.

Take a Hike. I Mean It.

It doesn't take much.

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Everyone needs to take a moment to reflect on little, life-changing moments.

They exist.

I like to rate hugs.

There are mediocre hugs, like those you exchange with your mother quickly before you leave for dinner with your friends. There are terrible hugs, like those you unknowingly consent to when you go in for a handshake and the other guy mistakes it for an invitation to embrace. And there are wonderful hugs, that warm contact between you and your best friend before she leaves for college 2,000 miles away from you. No matter the quality of the hug, however, each one is so unique it cannot be anything but comforting, because it is a mutual expression of the value you place in another person, the respect you have for how they have contributed to your life in the moments preceding the exchange.

My favorite hug was a mediocre hug at best - but it encapsulated all of the respect and love I shared mutually with a child who just wanted to play softball with me - a child with a bright smile and immense determination and Down Syndrome.

I chose to participate in a non-profit organization called "Sports Made Possible" in June 2017. It was 90 degrees that day, and, coupled with my uncoordinated nature and lack of muscle, I was destined for failure. The program requires volunteers to help disabled children to play softball.

I had never played softball.

I was nervous, of course, as I lacked any knowledge of the rules of techniques of the game. My pride and I were in it together, and it likes to try to convince me not to do things I won't excel at. But I got there, and I saw the smiles on everyone's face (volunteer and child alike), and I couldn't help but swallow my pride and banish it to the depths of my distaste in favor of making someone's day just a little bit brighter. I ran with wheelchairs, often tripping and catching myself on the handles; I tossed softballs into the air as gently as I could with the grandest gesture I could muster and watched eyebrows furrow as the ball made contact with the plastic bat; I cheered and whooped and shook pom-poms as one of my new friends persevered and crossed home plate.

I chose to participate in an activity I had no experience in, trained my body to acknowledge the rules and bend them when needed, and realized the satisfaction of making children smile as they ran around a field in the 90-degree heat.

I laughed at my mistakes and inabilities and allowed myself to help others gain a sense of recognition and respect for their dedication.

And I got a mediocre hug from a new friend. That was worth all the humiliation in the world.

When I was younger, I told my mother I would never become a politician. Politicians were sleazy liars with alternate agendas and inherent greed. Politicians only dealt with money, and only used money as a motivator to gain more themselves. I did not want to lose sight of God had gifted us with; I did not want to lose sight of how beautiful simple interaction with one another, and with the natural world, could be. I allowed the pain of intense hiking to transport me through that world and recognized the international need for cooperation in protecting it.

I learned about Le Chatelier's principle in the 10th grade and aced the exam. I learned about ocean acidification 11th grade and aced the exam. I went hiking in California that same year in Muir Woods and saw "caution" signs near saltwater species because they were at risk of extinction. I made the connection between chemistry and negative human influence on the natural world and decided I wanted to prevent it.

I chose to hike because I wanted to experience the natural world in a vulnerable state; I wanted to ache and let the rain massage my limbs, to watch ants climb trees and climb them myself, to identify traces of humanity in the mountains of Colorado and in the Mountains of California. I recognized similarities in pollution, regardless of where I was losing my breath. I chose to let my body become healthier as I sought a means of making the environment healthier, as well.

Perhaps there could be some Biblical connection made between the physical pain of hiking and the identification of my own responsibility in endangering the world around me. A repentance, of sorts. But I choose to let the activity of strengthening myself mirror my future as a diplomat for health and environmental concerns around the world, a strengthening of international relationships with the purpose of maintaining a habitable and hospitable environment.

I hiked all around Colorado, where I saw the Hanging Lake and read about pH contamination of the crystal clear water; I drove to New Mexico and hiked along a gorge with a depth that puzzled me, gained an appreciation for the bittersweet act of sacrificing my own comfort to appreciate what God created; and I traveled to California and hiked near the ocean for the first time, where I recognized the same human impact in an environment unfamiliar to me. I had to move myself to see the need for international cooperation. My body became the vehicle by which I recognized the value of sacrifice in protecting the calm and beauty that exists all around the world.

I sweated, I grew, and I breathed deep to sucked out all the marrow of life. I believe Thoreau would be proud.

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When You Make A Girl An Aunt, You Change Her World In All The Best Ways

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her the happiest girl in the world.

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My brother and his wife recently blessed our family with the sweetest bundle of joy on planet earth. OK, I may be a little bias but I believe it to be completely true. I have never been baby crazy, but this sweet-cheeked angel is the only exception. I am at an age where I do not want children yet, but being able to love on my nephew like he is my own is so satisfying.

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her a very protective person.

From making sure the car seat is strapped in properly before every trip, to watching baby boy breathe while he sleeps, you'll never meet someone, besides mommy and daddy of course, who is more concerned with the safety of that little person than me.

When you make a girl an aunt, you give her a miniature best friend.

There is something about an aunt that is so fun. An aunt is a person you go to when you think you're in trouble or when you want something mom and dad said you couldn't have. An aunt is someone who takes you to get ice cream and play in the park to cool down after having a temper tantrum. I can't wait to be the one he runs to.

When you make a girl an aunt, she gets to skip on the difficulty of disciplining.

Being an aunt means you get to be fun. Not to say I wouldn't correct my nephew if he were behaving poorly, but for the most part, I get to giggle and play and leave the hard stuff for my brother.

When you make a girl an aunt, you give her the best listening ears.

As of right now I only listen to the sweet coos and hungry cries but I am fully prepared to listen to all the problems in his life in the future.

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her the best advice giver.

By the time my nephew needs advice, hopefully, I will have all of my life lessons perfected into relatable stories.

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her a number-one fan

Anything you do in life sweet boy, I will be cheering you on. I already know you are going to do great things.

When you make a girl an aunt, she learns what true love is.

The love I have for my nephew is so pure. Its the love that is just there. I don't have to choose to show love every day, I don't have to forgive, I don't have to worry if it is reciprocated, it is just there.

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her the happiest person in the world.

I cannot wait to watch my precious nephew grow into the amazing person that I know he is going to be.

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The One Thing Everyone Should Do Before They Graduate

Why I wish everyone could have shared in my end of school adventure.

Lswitka
Lswitka
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The end of freshman year was filled with the abundant stress of final exams, teary-eyed goodbyes, and last looks at my dorm room on South Campus. The academic year was overwhelmingly busy, and I tried my best to soak in every single moment as a first-year college student. But as I'm sure many of you can understand, it's not always possible to make time for the adventures we so desperately desire. I found myself saying "I want to do that!" all year long, and here it was the last week of the year and my bucket list had barely been touched. All those Philadelphia excursions, dreamy coffee shop dates, and campus explorations that I looked forward to never ended up panning out…

… until last Thursday night.

With about half the freshman class moved out of South Campus, everything felt a little strange. There was barely a dinner rush at all in Donahue Dining Hall, and my room looked so empty it almost made me sad. Naturally, I called up a couple of friends. Within minutes, we met in the lounge, and we were off for our adventure.

Every single day on the way to labs in Mendel Hall, I walked past the beloved Falvey Fountain. It had become such a consistent part of my routine that walking past it felt like it was a necessary daily occurrence. But this time, we didn't walk past. In fact, we stopped dead in our tracks and admired its color changing beauty for a brief moment.

And then we dove in!

Yes, we jumped right into the fountain. First the daring adventurer of the group, then his sidekick, then the skeptic, and finally myself. This was definitely not allowed, but no one was around, and more importantly, no one cared. Being knee deep was freezing, but the adrenaline rush was too much to suppress. So we submerged further, dunking each other and splashing the icy water literally everywhere. My wet hair made way for the most epic hair flip of all time, and we all laughed joyously.

All the stress of looming final grades and the completion of projects, the bittersweet goodbyes to our newfound families, and the hassles of packing up for the year were washed away in that fountain, drowned in the euphoria of the moment. We were officially baptized in summer as it dubbed us the kings and queens of adventure.

Afterward, we wrung out our soaking clothes and snapped a quick pic of our drenched selves. Trying to escape the scene hastily, I dropped my bag of M&M;'s. They spilled everywhere, leaving streams of melty chocolate and food coloring running through the aftermath of our fountain dive. The scene looked like a bit of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory had exploded from the fountain and into the night.

I am far from kidding when I say that adventure is a must for everyone, at any stage of life. Whether it's fountain diving at Nova, or sky diving in New Mexico, something about us as human beings needs the unusual, exciting, and even hazardous experiences. This one was particularly cleansing and absolutely unforgettable.

So I implore you: go forth this summer and be adventurous! Explore hidden places, try new eats, shuffle a stranger's playlist, introduce yourself to someone on a whim, or just get in the car and drive with no destination in mind. This summer is for the bold; this summer's for you.

Happy adventuring!

Lswitka
Lswitka

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