The mystery of comfort

Comfort was the antithesis of what I experienced this weekend. And, indeed, running the Ragnar Relay Del Sol — a race from Prescott to Phoenix — was the epitome of discomfort. While trying to find rest sleeping in the fetal position in a van crammed with six other runners, then staring up at an ominous hill on my last leg, I seriously questioned the motivation that had propelled me to this discomfort.

What was I thinking? I had planned on it. I had even paid for it.

So often I’ve heard speakers confront their audience saying that if Americans worshiped a pantheon of gods, “comfort” would be the most adored. They say we desire it, seek it and work for it. In the 21st century, America is the land of the free, brave and … comfortable.

The irony is that we while we pursue this elusive comfort, we plan for discomfort. The Ragnar Relay Del Sol — a 203.5 mile race benefiting local charities with a team of 12 running alternately around the clock — is my latest endeavor toward preconceived discomfort. But, isn’t any kind of strenuous physical exercise or athletic endeavor a prime example of discomfort? And yet, crazy as we may be, some of us actually enjoy it.

The race this weekend was an amazing experience — unforgettable, not for the aches, pains, and sleepless hours, but for the enjoyment of being part of something bigger than myself — running 203.5 miles with my 11 teammates.

The encouragement of those teammates was all that kept the fatigued muscles of my stiff legs working this weekend. Every two miles, throughout the course from Prescott to Tempe, we would stop ahead of our runner, pile out of the van and cheer him, her or anyone else running by with yells of “You can do it! You’re almost there!”

While the physical discomfort of strenuous exercise is something we willingly participate in and use to strengthen our bodies, it is the unplanned experience of emotional, social and physical discomfort that can break our spirits and ultimately drive us to retreat from interaction.

Just as we enlist and appreciate cheerleaders when attempting a physical feat, we need cheerleaders when thrust into a whirlwind of unexpected discomfort. Genetics, geography and goals will affect who we are and how we deal with this uncomfortable emotional suffering.

So often in a world with ubiquitous suffering and pain, we often question why the discomfort is necessary. While running my three relay segments this weekend, though, yearning for the simple pleasures of home — a hot shower, a soft bed, fresh coffee — I wondered just the opposite: Why do we have comfort? Why isn’t all of life like a 203.5 mile run, every day?

This is a question that affects us all. Instead of asking why all the suffering and discomfort, let us ask this question: Why is there comfort, peace and rest? This is a mystery that has gone too long undiscussed. It is time to solve it.

Reach Catherine at catherine.e.smith@asu.edu


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.