Sunday, July 6, 2014

Munjoy Hill's Steep Hills Teach Life Lessons

Munjoy Hill's Steep Hills Teach Big Life Lessons

When I moved to an apartment on Portland's Eastern Prom two months ago, I had two goals in mind. One, to involve myself in as many community and social activities as possible, in order to increase my level of emotional connections and growth, and two, to avoid walking up Munjoy Hill. Those two goals ended up having more parallels than I ever would have imagined.

I don't drive, and I have an avid dislike of steep hills. Physical discomfort has always been something I have struggled with, and as much as I wanted to live in Portland, when I found out I'd be living on Munjoy Hill all I could think of was, "I'm going to be a mile from downtown and not be able to walk in and out of it?" At first, I took the bus in and out. There is no bus on Sunday nights, however, and my fragrance sensitivities usually prohibit me from taking a taxi. So, on the way back from my immersion in the quirky and wonderful social landscape that is Portland, I often had to be creative in order to find a way home.

My first attempt to get back to the Eastern Prom on foot from downtown was the most obvious way, to take Congress. I could do it, but it was difficult and drudgery and I had no interest in trying again.
Several weeks later, I attempted to take Commercial Street on my way back from meeting a friend at a gelato place on Fore Street. It was long, monotonous and had an uphill at the end, which exhausted me. I gave up for a while on figuring out how to walk back to the Eastern Prom. Until a night a few weeks ago, when I was faced with the dilemma of trying to get back from an event on India Street and Congress. Standing at the corner of Washington and Congress thinking how much I didn't want to walk up Congress, I had an idea. Didn't Washington go to the Eastern Prom somehow? I am terrible with geography, so I didn't really know. But I decided to try it anyway.

I had a feeling, an instinct that I was going in the right direction, but I didn't know what it would look like when I got there, or how long it would take. I was afraid of getting lost, but I kept going, and soon was rewarded with the sight of exactly what I was looking for - a long, winding road with a very low grade of incline that led up to a small park overlooking the Eastern Prom. I felt victorious. I trusted myself and found a way to get into the Eastern Prom without hills.

During the same week, I approached organizations at a gay pride festival with a slightly unorthodox idea that I had with more confidence than I had ever had before, and got a very welcoming response. Originally a very anxious and socially isolated teenager and young adult, I grew in my level of confidence in my social interactions and started experiencing better responses from others. My physical explorations of Portland's East End mirrored my own emotional growth, and reinforced the lessons I was learning.

A few weeks later, I was at Whole Foods on a Sunday night. How to get back from there? The most obvious way was a very steep uphill that was probably less than a mile away, but far too steep for me to consider. One night, however, I decided to approach it in a different way. I took Franklin to Congress, Congress to Washington, and Washington to the East End. It might have taken an hour to walk back, but I was calm and happy when I got back. I rested at each intersection, and later related this to the value of finding places to rest along the way when we are in the middle of emotional difficulties. Instead of over-identifying with our problems and thinking we need to be doing something to solve them at every moment, we need to learn how to rest. Always being one to analyze things deeply, I also reflected on how if I had taken Fox Street, the steep hill, back from Whole Foods, I would have been in tears a quarter of the way up because of the physical discomfort of taking a hill with such a high difficulty level. But because I let myself take the long way, and had enough patience to rest along the way, I was able to eventually get to my goal, calm and in one piece. Similarly, when I let myself take a break from figuring out how to overcome my difficulties, I am renewed enough to take them up again afterwards.

I thought I was done exploring alternate ways to get in and out of the Eastern Prom. But tonight, a whole new level of insight into my own life was revealed by a chance decision to walk back on yet another Sunday night from the Old Port, using Fore Street. I had decided not to try Fore, because the memory of the physical exhaustion that taking Commercial St had caused was still fresh in my mind. I had thought Commercial and Fore streets were parallel to each other, and therefore would be the same experience walking back. I would find out  that although they were parallel to each other, they were not the same experience. Fore St was a lot shorter and more pleasant to walk on. I was intoxicated by the sweet feeling of competence and self-sufficiency as I neared the Eastern Prom, and reflected yet again on the parallels of my walk home to what is currently going in my life.

In 2007, I attempted to live in an apartment in downtown Portland, but was traumatized by various events and spent the next seven years trying to find every way I could to avoid living in apartments again. Now it's 2014, and I have realized that living with roommates in houses and such is really not working for me, so I have to try again to get my own apartment. For most people this would not be a difficult matter, but I keep running against my own feelings of panic and anxiety and a feeling of desperation to avoid the fate I had endured in 2007. Friends and family keep telling me that the experience will be different this time, but I have trouble listening. I want to believe it will be true. As I was nearing the Eastern Prom tonight, a smile on my face as I saw the now-familiar street names, a thought occurred to me. I had been so sure that walking on Fore Street would be as difficult as Commercial just because it was parallel and seemed similar. But it wasn't. My experiences in 2007 seemed parallel to what I was attempting to do once again in 2014, but what if they weren't? What if they were parallel but not the same, just as my walk home tonight had been? I caught a glimpse for the first time of how things that seem bad don't always have to be bad.

Just as I never dreamed I could have the emotional connections with others that I am starting to build, I never thought I'd find so many ways to walk in and out of this beautiful area of Portland. My physical explorations of the city have reinforced my emotional growth. I will soon have to move, but I will look fondly back to this time as a time when I was learning to trust myself and my abilities. After all, if I can find a way to walk in and out of Munjoy Hill without hills, then what else can I do that I didn't think I could do?

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