Sid and I went tent camping this week with my sister Wendy and her husband David at Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. We actually discovered this place some years back when Sid and I would take the Camp Or L’Dor teens there for their outdoor adventure. Although we don’t challenge ourselves in the same way with long canoe trips, at our ages what we seek is just the experience of living outdoors off the grid for a few days to reconnect with nature and to enjoy relaxing in God’s majestic playground, especially at this time of year as the leaves begin their fall splendor.

I must have my DNA checked with or for I enjoyed the camping trip (as did my sister) way more than our men did. No Jewish American princesses here! What Wendy and I really loved was the challenge of making do with something unplanned to make the situation work. If we forgot to pack the right utensil, using something else. Or mixing food choices in different ways. Or figuring out how to improvise without our needed and now unusable wet things since we had a lot of rain at night and our belongings were not all in the tents. Having to stay warm by making a fire was the best! The challenges are what made the trip so memorable – and in a good way.

As I watched the news coverage this week of a young man scaling El Capitan, a famous seemingly straight up mountain climb at Yosemite, I couldn’t figure out why he would want to do that. Or for that matter, the discipline of professional dancers, musicians, writers, artists, athletes, even some in the business and professional world, amazes me as people push themselves for hours a day to attain their goals. Or how focused we can be to solve a crossword puzzle, solve a tough math problem, accomplish goals we have set for ourselves, how alive it makes us feel to succeed at something that is difficult for us to do. On the camping trip, as we worked to stay warm and dry, well fed and off of our electronics, I realized that the tough challenges we choose to undertake in life are often what make our lives rich, as well as provide the training we may need for what life brings us, by choice or by chance.

It’s not just about how great the shower will feel when I get home. Or how the climber will feel at the top. It’s about living each moment taking in the beauty and complexity of God’s created world , blink by blink. It’s appreciating the wherewithal our Creator has given us to use our gifts, our brains, our physical skills, to think outside the box, to live our lives differently than we are used to doing each day. It is energizing to try new things, to challenge ourselves, to live more deeply. The challenges also teach us we can overcome obstacles, use our brains to solve dilemmas, push our bodies beyond the limits we have set, and work on our emotional maturity to be kind to others, all at the same time. As a matter of fact, with the right attitudes, problems can become possibilities for growth, for good, for love.

Sometimes our lives are challenging in ways we have not chosen. People have accidents, lose limbs, are emotionally scarred. Or there may be times when food is scarce, electricity goes out, furnaces break, tools can’t be found. As we have positive attitudes toward inconveniences and take on rather than succumb to the challenges, whether chosen or not, we grow in our aptitude to handle the unexpected. If we choose to be open to experience what life brings us and make the best of it, even further, to make good of it, we learn to appreciate even the small things in new ways, let alone feel gratitude for the many blessings. We gain the strength to overcome hardships that may come our way in life. Camping off the grid is a good training ground for this aptitude, an important life skill as well as a joy if experienced with a welcoming attitude.

You don’t have to go camping to strip away some of the conveniences and learn to experience life more fully and better prepare for the unexpected. Walking further to the store provides time outside to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors as well as helps our physical fitness, readying us for physical challenges. On that walk, try praying or admiring God’s creations, or feeling grateful for the many blessings. So it’s raining? Not so bad really. Just dress for it. Or dry off good naturedly if taken by a surprise shower. What a blessing given the droughts in so many areas. Do you really need all those utensils to stir a pot? Let alone the many pots. How many types of cereal does one family really need? Simplify. Simplify. Can’t figure out a workaround? Join forces with another. It will only make the experience that much more fun. And most likely more creative in the solution.

And oh, how glorious to be off the grid. Warming by the campfire. Staying dry by soft walls, able to hear the loons and appreciate the sound of the falling drops. Most of all being able to appreciate total silence. Total darkness. Away from all distractions. Time alone. Time with others. Time with our Creator. Reading, praying, talking, laughing, making up songs. Unless you’re a doctor or medically necessary to be available, just try turning off that cell phone for a while, and the internet. A very good way to feel closer to our ancestors, and closer to HaShem. In today’s world, this is perhaps the hardest challenge of all, but one with the greatest of rewards, and one we all can be encouraged to do this week.

Shabbat shalom.

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