Discomfort

Daniel Libman - Oregon, Illinois
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, June 28, 2013
Daniel Libman

Dan Libman believes in being uncomfortable. He came upon this as a guiding principle while preparing for a week-long bicycle trip in the Rocky Mountains, where comfort is hard to find.

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I believe in discomfort. This may come as surprise to my students who see me tipping my chair and drinking as much coffee as I can hold, but it’s true. I wear ties not because it matters to me how I look, but because when the day is over I go home and take the tie off. I slip on gym shoes and a sweatshirt and revel in comfort earned from a full day of wearing constricting clothing.

I came upon this as a guiding principle while preparing for a week-long bicycle trip in the Rocky mountains, where all seasons are contained in each day. In the freezing mornings you chip the ice off your wheels and brakes, and by the afternoon you’re sweating bullets and slapping on sunscreen. And somewhere in there it’s going to rain and—most days—snow. This is okay if you can travel with a suitcase, but on a bicycle it makes for tricky packing. While fretting this, trying to figure out the myriad of shirts with removable sleeves and fur lined shoe coverings, my wife finally said to me, “You just aren’t going to be comfortable every minute.”

This was as a liberating concept: I could just pack for one meteorological condition and let the chips fall where they may. Sure, I might be wet and cold during the day, but I could get warm and dry that night, or as was the case on this trip where we slept on middle school football fields in mining towns, the next week once the ride was over. I found a sort of honor in being as uncomfortable as possible for as long as possible.

And I learned something else while I was no longer paying attention to comfort. Toward the end of the trip we rode our bicycles 10,000 feet up Monarch Pass. It takes hours to pedal to the top but mere minutes to descend, your heart pounding in fear and exhilaration. I wanted to remember every second of the descent, but I realized of course that I couldn’t. All the struggle of pedaling to the top was already gone, and soon so would be the pleasure of coasting down. This isn’t an original thought by any means, but regardless how many times I had heard it as an empty bromide, I physically felt it that afternoon: everything in life is temporary, the one moment you have is the only moment you get, so let go of what has come before and don’t fret about what is to come—because it’s coming anyway.

This is something I never could have internalized had I been at home, had I been reading in my easy chair, had I been comfortable. And though it is too much to expect I could always live in the present, I can still plug into the notion that whatever is happening now is soon going to end, by putting on a necktie and heading to work.

Dan Libman is a Paris Review Discovery and Pushcart Prize winning author. His debut collection of stories entitled Married but Looking is available now and includes the fiction story "Tandem," which was inspired by the same bicycle ride down Monarch Pass.

Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.