At some point in your life, if you’re anything like me, you are sure to come to the realization that everything in Existence falls into one of two categories: things that you can punch in the face, and things that you cannot punch in the face. You can punch a squirrel, or a politician, or a banana tree; but you can’t punch the economy, an annoying sound, or a system of government. It is with this in mind that we must choose the nature of our battles, and you can be sure that it is from this dichotomy that I judge pathways of conflict resolution in virtually all situations.
The irony, of course, is that the things that we are most driven to punch in the face do not have a face to punch, or are otherwise unpunchable. Further, when you do want to punch something in the face and find that it is physically possible, it is often inadvisable. Walking into thorn bushes, for example, or stubbing your toe on a curb, or bumping your head on an ill-placed corner — all things that can be punched, but which carry an end result of cuts and bruises on your formerly eager fist, while no behavioural change can be expected from the offending object.
The earliest unpunchable thing that I can recall wanting to punch in the face was Volcán Barú, which is a bastard of a mountain, near the little village of Boquette, in Panama. I went up there to retire an old pair of shoes, for sentimental purposes.
The path is gravelly and rife with switchbacks, and even though you are hiking up the mountain, the pathway dips downhill steeply and frequently, making the total climb more arduous than it really needs to be. Add to this the heavy rain that fell on me from 10am until nightfall, when I stumbled back to the base of the mountain, lost and in the dark, and you have the necessary components for one rough day. It’s probably about 4 hours into the hike before you really want to punch that mountain right in the face. Or the wind, or the rain, or the weather in general.
The raincloud that has been following me since the beginning of the year, by the way — the raincloud I watched chase my train from Switzerland to Croatia — has not yet provoked in me the desire to punch it in the face. Perhaps I am growing up. Perhaps this little raincloud reminds me of so many of you: a familiar thing that seems to take great pleasure and amusement in my own personal misery, but nonetheless seems to bear some kind of affection for me — not unlike God, perhaps.
Even when I stood in the rain for 8 hours in the middle of nowhere in France while I was trying to hitch a ride. Even when it delayed the end of a month-long drought in Croatia so that I could stand in the rain the single day I needed to hitch-hike out of town. Even when it kept me wet for several days in a cold windy region of Tunisia. Or when I was walking a few hundred kilometers through Spain and just wanted to give my shoes a chance to dry out. Even when it kept the trails muddy enough to deny reprieve from raw-worn heals until i was induced to endure glass-pierced muddy poo feet.
Through all this, I do not recall the impulse to punch that raincloud in the face, because it was too much like all of you. Maybe if I had punched it in the face, it would have had a voice like Brad, and been excited because it had never been punched in the face before. Maybe the raincloud would have danced around singing about it’s epic punch in the face, and how it didn’t hurt at all, and then would have used up all my phone credit not getting to the point.
Having that raincloud with me all this time was like having one of you watching over me, laughing at my every misfortune, so that no single misstep was ever truly in vain. It wasn’t the annoying stranger trying to sell me something I didn’t want, it was the annoying buddy that thinks it’s funny when I’m mad. Just like all of you.
But there is a way to cope with the punchable and unpunchable alike. A shining sword to be drawn when we’re in the pit of futility and helplessness. Be it a distance, the weather, or a mountain; I have found that sometimes the only thing you can do is sing louder. And that is what I did, walking through the river of a pathway down Barú all those years ago: I sang. Not to the mountain, but at it. At the ground and the sky and the rain and the brush, and anything that might listen. And when it rained harder, or I slipped on a rock, or tripped over a root, I just sang even louder. And once your clothes are soaked through, your money is dampened to pulp, and there is no prospect of finding any reprieve from being both wet and cold, you have to just. keep. singing. Because if you don’t, you might explode.
And because you have to remind the Universe that you’re. still. here.
Because at the bottom of that mountain when you are wet and shivering and realize that you don’t know the way, there will be a man in a truck who will take you into town, and only ask for a dollar.
Because on the days when you are stretched too thin, the cat the size of you who has dragged you off cliffs, chewed on your knee, and taken great pleasure in beating the shit out of you, will walk amiably at your side without stirring the slightest bit of mischief.
Because at the end of 8 hours in cold rain, when you’re looking for the best place to curl up and try to sleep, a car will pull up, and happen to be going over 400km in your direction, and drop you off 100m from your destination.
Because the man is kind. The cat is your friend. And the raincloud wants you to get there.
Because when you’re singing sunshine, the storm can’t help but give you a rainbow.
voice in the woods
song in the rain