“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
These lines from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” were quoted in leadership training I attended last year.
In the swirl of social media posts reflecting on the difference a decade makes and the usual resolutions cropping up for the coming year, they have been at the top of my mind heading into 2020. The bit of dialogue tends to be used to illustrate how relationships, financial stability and physical health and fitness deteriorate over time if you’re not careful.
That makes sense. The quote is a cautionary tale. But I’ve been thinking about it another way.
I had a miracle visitor to Alaska last week. A friend who will leave the sun behind to come join me at the darkest part of the winter is highly unusual, and awesome. I love sharing Alaska, especially those parts that people rarely get to see.
She got off the plane and within hours she was already on cross-country skis borrowed from a friend. The next day we grabbed a rented fat bike and hit the trails. We went hiking, then fat biking, then skiing again. Southcentral Alaska turned into a snow globe and then dove into a deep freeze, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
It sounds like a lot, but it didn’t actually feel like much. Over time, through exposure and habit, my desire to be outside has expanded to a point where it’s difficult to fulfill. I have a baseline that I absolutely need to not be horribly grumpy, and then everything beyond that is gravy.
I have to be careful with visitors. My friend was totally game, but I also realize that the kind of easy and incredible access Alaskans have to the outdoors is not standard-issue in the Lower 48. She left sore, and excited to continue using her winter gear down south.
For me, it got me thinking about the past decade and how my relationship to the outdoors has evolved. And again, this idea of “gradually, then suddenly” was rattling around in my head.
For me, the last decade has been a steady haul uphill. I started at the bottom of something I was only vaguely aware that I was climbing. Younger me, 10 years ago, set out to develop a relationship with my now-husband, moved several times, grew exponentially in my career, and experienced deep loss in my family.
Throughout all of this, the life experiences matched the steeper mountains I was climbing. Sometimes I even ran uphill — not my normal or preferred mode, but I tried it. As life kept pushing me and I kept pushing through life, I consistently chose bigger and bigger outdoor adventures. I was very fortunate to have friends that — literally — ran with me and helped me along, showing me what was possible.
I make it sound like a slog, and at times it certainly was. There were moments and even months of mostly grind. But gradually the view, and my perspective, just got to be wider and more full. I became physically stronger and also a lot more comfortable in my body. I became both more and less sure of myself, which I think is called being humble — or maybe just old. I can see clearly the steps and decisions I took in my life, and also how fleeting and fragile the whole damn thing is. There is a lot of work I need to do to build up my confidence again after weathering some of the knocks I experienced, and to continue creating and enjoying my life.
Still, when I look over the past decade, I can see how I gradually took steps forward and somehow got to this place where my baseline for engaging with the world is higher than I ever imagined. It happened gradually, then suddenly.
I know that this place isn’t actually a place at all. It’s not fixed, like a mountain top. There’s a pause to enjoy the view along the way, and from there it’s only about the way forward. My life is about not giving up, not while I’m living it anyway. So I want to keep imagining further. I want to keep on working on my “gradually, then suddenly.”
This next decade is about a climb into something new, even if that “new” is just a sharper or wider perspective on something that’s only just now beginning to take shape. I want to be like my friend, coming to visit a totally new place in the dead of winter and trying all the things, in good humor and totally OK with being a little beat up afterward.
What does that look like for me?
Like many Alaskans, I’ve been taking some time during these dark new days of the new decade to imagine that. If the last 10 years taught me anything it’s that a whole lot can and will happen, and I need to take my life step by step while holding a vision of what’s possible.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.