The Messiness of Life

In this article, I use the term “nibling,” which is a gender-neutral term for niece/nephew. Deep thanks to my brave, inspiring, queer, trans, non-binary nibling EJ, who educates me about language and life, and who motivates me to do crazy adventures...

On Saturday, I completed an 8-mile, 25-obstacle Tough Mudder race. My team consisted of people I love: my niblings, EJ and Mandy, and my close friend, Steph. Our support crew included more people I love: Mark, Dad, and my sister Jenny. It was a love mud-fest!

The Tough Mudder isn’t about finish time. It’s about teamwork—beyond your own team—and about challenging yourself, moving past fears and attempting new things, not concerned with outcome. There are epic fails and gleeful completions. The experience is both humbling and empowering.

Throughout the afternoon, we climbed walls, waded through a swamp, swung up monkey bars, slithered under barbed wire through mud, immersed ourselves in 35-degree ice water, carried each other on our backs, created a human ladder to scale a tall, slippery surface (after which I climbed over EJ, with all sorts of awkwardness), balanced on unstable surfaces, and grabbed people’s hands at the top of a 15’ slick quarter pipe (after running up that surface ourselves as a leap of faith). Helping other people was as much fun as completing a daunting obstacle. We laughed, high-fived, focused, grimaced, smiled, and savored. After the “Arctic Enema” (the insane ice-bath obstacle), I released a primal scream. Then I laughed and hugged my teammates. 

As we ran between stations, Steph said, “this is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.” Later in the race, I expressed surprise about an obstacle, then immediately smiled, “this whole thing is nuts and I love it.” As the race began, we were careful about mud; by mid-race we were covered in mud. We bonded as a team, our spectators bonded as a team, and post-race we all bonded over a shared experience of community, strength, courage, laughter, love, and trust.

When we go through challenging circumstances together, something shifts: we connect in deep, real, authentic ways. Often, we have no control over the difficult conditions: Someone we love dies, a traumatic event occurs, or we experience injustice. Occasionally, we get to choose a path that’s challenging yet supported, and that was a gift from my Tough Mudder. This human life is precious and fleeting, which I see in regular, heartbreaking ways. To temper the heartbreak, I try to embrace what’s in front of me. There were many times on Saturday when I looked at my team (and myself) and felt love, joy, and awe. That morning I learned, through tears, about a tragic death close to me. That afternoon, I felt alive and awake, not knowing how many Tough Mudders I have or how many days I have, yet embracing the messiness of my complicated, beautiful, and abundant life.