It is impossible to find the brightest spot in the forest if you do not walk through the shadows, there is no soaring high if you don’t know what it feels like to be down low. Nothing stays new, especially if it is used the way it was intended.

This is the exhausting reality of the human experience, that every day we wake up with creaky bones and a treasure trove of traumas and have to look deeply into the well of inner reserves in order to find the energy and reason to rise. There is an unspoken risk that admitting this makes it true, an even larger one that speaking it is akin to admitting weakness.

There are, of course, ways to file the edges off these jagged peaks and valleys, through artificial stoicism or any number of pharmaceuticals. These are good defense mechanisms and work well enough at keeping the dry tears from falling; a tingling numbness certainly preempts the overflow of emotions that one might feel when they stare up at the naked winter branches and struggle to focus on them through the flat grey sky. With a slight head twist, the swirling vertigo feels poetic and invokes an implacable déjà vu to when you felt this way—or some way—before.

It is comforting to feel so moved by the nothingness and everythingness of the world, but it is exhausting. I can scarcely fathom an alternative, though I have been there many times. By blunt force trauma and by high-grade prescriptions, I have known what it is like to not feel much of anything at all. Through the eroding power of time and numbing experiences, these days the inputs have to be somewhat stronger to come through. Connections corrode with time and rust is simply a protective shell for the untouched parts beneath it.

But rust takes time to form, and that is a bittersweet truth. It is only with time that one earns the small creases around the edges of their eyes and smiles, only with some degree of experience that one realizes that passing beyond the chapter of naïve love is indeed a point of no return, wherein the whimsical yields to the hard-won. For the true romantic, this is a beautiful thing indeed. Because the only thing more true than being attracted to a fresh face is falling in love with a thousand scars and stories. Then, you are thankful the rust protected all the layers below it. 

I am often frustrated by the gap between the need and the attainable, the feeling and the words we have for it. When you chase a feeling, you can never really catch it. The best we can do is put ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm with a graphite rod and hope that lightning strikes twice. The more honky tonks you attend and two-dollar PBRs you consume, the higher the odds are that the band will play the right song at the right time. There are only a couple of times you really, really feel something when riding mountain bikes. When you pull off something that surprises you, and when you don’t. it is either the momentary elation of success or the metallic tang of eating shit. Both are life-affirming, neither can be felt very often.

What of the more prosaic, then? That momentary sip somewhere in the second or third cup of coffee when you are perfectly awake but not yet chemically reliant, that point in the conversation where there is more potential than time to tap it, the two minutes when the sunlight slides through the blinds at an angle that paints shadows on the floor and makes you want to weep, if only the tears still flowed.

Chasing these moments comes at a high cost. It means resisting the numbing allure of the familiar until you are well-versed in the opportunity cost of commitment. It means taking a frigid plunge because the trout you see is just a few steps beyond where a person in waders can safely stand and cast to. It probably means some broken bones and broken hearts.