Letting Go When it is Time to Die

A TGB READER STORY: Embrace the Challenges

By W. Christian Koch

We went camping this past week or, as one of my hardcore, outdoor friends calls it, "Glamping". (Glamorous Camping).

Whatever you call it, the family loves it. My adult kids and their spouses/fiance' all flocked back for our little excursion. We are members of a club, so it's something free we can all do together.

We started camping about 13 years ago. While all the trips sort of blend together, the overall sense we get is that of a loving satisfaction of enjoying each other.

Some of the trips didn't exactly go as planned. A couple tire blowouts, steaks falling in the fire, rainy trips, steaming hot trips, and getting lost.

One such event sticks out for me. It was the time we were lost, at night, amidst nothing but corn fields. Man, is it ever dark out there cruising corn fields! We were also low on gas and there was nowhere to turn the camper around. The dirt road we were on just kept going and going and going.

Tensions were running high. Suddenly my mother-in-law, Nancy, exclaimed, "Well, the corn's agrow'n".

The simplicity of her observation broke the tension and every last one of us laughed so hard, we couldn't breath. Eventually, there was a crossroad and we made it to our campground safely and no worse for the wear.

So, what has me recounting such tales? It's another odd moment as I practice the mindfulness technique I learned to manage the chronic pain.

I was spraying off the carpets and tarp we use camping. When I started, there was a familiar aroma that was present that I never noticed while cleaning it in the past. It was the smell of camping.

It was the smoky smell of the dozens of campfires. It was the stains of millions of raindrops, from countless storms, that mixed with dirt as it splashed back on the tarp after hitting the muddy ground.

There is a small spot where the tarp got too close to the heat exhaust and melted a hole and charred it a bit. I looked at the imperfection of that very old tarp (my dad made it for me when I was 14!). I stood there for a moment and concentrated on that smell and the hole. All those memories flooded back and I started wondering why those challenges were so defined while the thousands and thousands of wonderfully positive experiences are sort of lost in a sea of really happy family moments.

I wondered if I really wanted to wash that tarp for fear of losing that aroma that was stirring those memories. Well, I went ahead and washed the dirt off and I'm happy to report the smell that is so pleasant to me was still there.

But it got me to pondering. I look at the beat up, somewhat dirtied and holey fabric of my life and I know I need to wash the dirt of the bad times off so I can continue to be useful.

And I truly do have a sea of terrific memories of a very happy existence thus far. But I'm wondering if I shouldn't keep the "aroma" of those difficult and challenging moments around because they definitely help define who I am and overcoming them has made my life rich and worth living.

It's not that I want to wallow in any "whoa is me pity party", but just like those camping stories that help knit us together as a family, remembering my challenges that I've overcome has made my story more complete.

I just need to remember though, not to get so caught up in how difficult things are or have been, rather take a look around, chill out and say, "Well, the corn's agrow'n".

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.



I enjoyed your story.

Timely, considering what the world is going through these days.

Keep writing!

Thank you. Good thoughts.

Thanks so much for a wonderful, funny reminder. So true, too, that we automatically remember the hurtful stuff and need to nudge ourselves to remember and enjoy all the happiness. During a time of great loss and confusion some years ago, I began remembering and reliving the good moments of the day before going to sleep that night. Somewhere I'd heard or read about this. Even on the worst, no-good, awful-crummy-miserable day, there are those moments of happiness, light, perhaps even joy.

P.S. My mother said, a number of times, "Everyone thinks they have the RIGHT to be happy!
They don't have the right to be happy, they have the DUTY to be happy!" Still trying to figure that one out.

Thank you for this. Life is certainly about challenge and struggle, and it's helpful to have those moments of humor interjected to help keep it all together. And the sensory reminders of so many things that bring back visceral flashbacks from peak moments of our past are the best! For me, some of the best of those include the ocean; pine, acorn and woody soil of a forest floor; and the scent of the sun and air caught by freshly air dried sheets.

Prousts Madeleine cakes... Smell is a great reminder of things gone by. The good, the hard, real life.

Science tells us that of all our senses, smell is most closely related to memory. If I could bottle the scent of fresh mountain air, I'd make a fortune. Maybe I'd sell it with smaller accompanying bottles of pine, mountain stream, dry leaves, wildflowers, summer showers, fog, and campfires.

And if I had a tarp with all those smells on it, I'd probably never wash it.

​ Just of interest for Salinda:

I suspect your mother must have fancied Robert Lewis Stevenson, as she was voicing his words from an early essay he wrote. I believe it was a long essay around the late 1800s and continued to say "The benefits will extend beyond our knowing", but I cannot find it accurately now. But it is in there somewhere in my personal "RAM" :-).
Getting random-er, by the way!

“There is no duty​ ​we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.”​ ​― Robert Louis Stevenson​​​

Wow - this is terrific, Christian. It lit up the mood from the dark sky as I read it at 6 this morning, then my computer went out. What to do for those then- tech-less hours!?! Well, you provided some thoughts.

Sometimes we're awfully hard on ourselves, 'expecting' more than we're aware or capable of doing at that moment in time. So yes, it's helpful to learn how to chill and spread that attitude to others.

Hmmmm, I'd have to say that my preference is for the feeling of opportunity rather than duty, per Stevenson. Maybe it's the looser, more open to alternative means we live by these days (if chosen).

Totally agree with the aromas mentioned above by several commentators to arouse the mind and heart. Another for me is the smell of an infant or freshly baked bread. Okay, I'm off down the rabbit hole now.

Well put! Enjoyed your submission immensely. Thank you and thanks to Ronni for selecting it.

enjoyable story. Hang on to those scents and thoughts some day they will come in handy. :-)

This reminded me of camping trips as a kid..being somewhat lost, and my Dad and uncle saying we were taking “ the scenic route!” And another watchword, “When in doubt, improvise!” Thanks for bringing back some memories, and for this timely essay for a challenging season in my life.

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