“Sure! I’ll get the water,” I said as I stepped up and away from the group. It was dinner time. And we were on Day 2 of our three day camping trip in the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State.

A few hours east of Seattle begins the trailhead to Tuck and Robin Lakes — a scenic entry point into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail begins with a steady grade, turns to switchbacks, then concludes with scrambling up boulder faces until the Robin Lakes come into view. Protruding into one of the lakes was a massive granite peninsula that was covered in vegetation. Upon this outcrop, our party of seven set up camp.

Shaped like a floating watermelon, the large granite mound had flat spots for sure but the overall bulbous form kept our camp options somewhat limited. There was really only one access point to the water that one could navigate without having to backtrack off the peninsula to the outer shore. Jumping up to get the water for the group, I grabbed the four Nalgene bottles and headed toward the furthest point of the peninsula where it met the water’s edge.

At the end, the smooth monolith gradually tapered off into the water before fading into the submerged darkness. To reach water deep enough to fill the bottles, I crouched on my haunches with the toes of my boots right at the waterline and reached out with empty bottles in hand. Bottle #1 filled. Bottle #2 filled. Bottle #3 filled. And as I was filling up Bottle #4, I looked up, paused, and started soaking in how special of a moment I was experiencing. I was out in nature, surrounded by high mountain peaks, looking out over crisp, snowmelt water. There was a slight breeze in the air creating a gentle ripple on the water’s surface. The sky was still blue, but fading as the sun crept deeper into the west. There was utter silence—no sound of the outside world. I was at peace with my thoughts with the only sound in my ears being the sound of a bottle nearly filled. Then shifting my weight, I felt myself ever-so-slightly begin to pitch forward. And in that split second, I knew it was too late. My balance was lost and I could not save it. I was going in.

At the age of fourteen, I would say I was a rather strong swimmer. Under normal circumstances, being in the water would not raise any kind of concern. But this scenario was different. I went in fully clad. And by “clad”, I am not talking about the clothes one wears to work or school. I went into the drink wearing hiking boots, bulky polar fleece from head to toe, and a parka overtop. The puffiness of my attire caused me to bob like a cork at first. But as the water began working its way through the fibers, my buoyancy turned to a burdenous and sluggish anchor. Frantically paddling my limbs, I propelling myself back to the edge where I sat crouched moments earlier. As I clawed at the smooth granite trying to get a handhold to pull myself out of the water, I had no luck. I felt myself starting to sink into the unknown depths, which filled me with overwhelming panic.

Scanning the water’s edge, all other possible options were dangerous long shots. The banks were either excessively steep or far away across open water. “Do I start stripping?” I desperately thought to myself. “Will I get stuck in my clothes?” Knowing I only had a short time before my predicament got significantly worse, emotion took over. I screamed for help.

 

I have not thought of this childhood memory in quite some time. But whenever I do, it still sends chills down my spine. It is a stark reminder of how quickly things can change—like an unavoidable car crash where senses are heightened and everything seems to slow down. And then once impact occurs, one is left with the damage and the roller coaster of emotions that come bursting out.

I think about how 2020 began—a rather symbolic year suggesting perfect vision with eyes wide open. And what happened to that vision? The world was blindsided by a different course. 

COVID. Distancing. Isolation.

The world we live in today is not the world we lived in one year ago. Across the planet, the immediate and forced changes felt by COVID has had some kind of impact on each of our lives. We have had to make changes to adapt whether we like it or not.

We at BILLY Footwear recently launched a weekly live stream over Facebook and YouTube where we have the opportunity to elevate the stories of our awesome customers and those we associate with. The program is called Open Book. And it provides a platform for voices to be heard. No surprise, the testimonies from our most recent guests all spoke of their need to make drastic adjustments due to COVID.

Jodi and Gwendy from Bridge of Promise (bridgeofpromise.org) shared how social distancing and home isolation makes it challenging for their members to engage in community activities. Tiffany from Crawford Cares (crawfordcares.org) echoed the sentiment. She also went further to say how virtual learning can be particularly hard for kids that require focused assistance. “Without one-on-one engagement, they are at risk of being left behind.” On the business side, Brian of Brainsport (brainsport.ca) shared how they had to temporarily close their physical storefront doors—a store that has remained open for over 29 years. Then there was Mataio, a 12-year old kiddo with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as Brittle Bone Disease. With hospitals going into triage mode, he was unable to receive his medications, which further complicated his world.

The stories shared by Mataio, Brian, Tiffany, Jodi and Gwendy are just four accounts from literally a billion others. We have all in someway felt the ramifications from COVID. It has spanned the globe and has been the culprit of many challenges. And like any challenge, we have to choose how to respond.

Switching back to my bout with drowning, my cry for help was heard. A friend came to my rescue and pulled me back onto solid ground. As I sat there shivering, I reflected on how what seemed like a perfect moment in time nearly turned to what felt like an unrecoverable demise. Did I overreact? Was my life really threatened? I cannot say for sure. But with teeth chattering, what once was panic became complete gratitude for the opportunity to live another day—an opportunity to do more—and an opportunity to make adjustments along the way while going and growing forward. I felt this same spirit from Mataio, Brian, Tiffany, Jodi and Gwendy. Despite current challenges, they looked for opportunity. Bridge of Promise held a virtual auction that reached audiences outside of the state that otherwise would not have been able to attend if hosted in person. Crawford Cares utilized the postal service to deliver donations, which extended the community range. And Brainsport launched an e-commerce platform that can now ship the shoes they carry, which includes BILLY Footwear, throughout Canada.

In the paraphrased words of Mataio, "I realize there are hardships... I hope you can be strong... You gotta be strong... Because there is always going to be that one thing that is going to make it all up—that [one thing] is going to make up for all [the hardships]."

In other words, the struggle makes the victory all the more beautiful. There we find gratitude. There we find love. And there we find the strength to keep moving forward together, one foot at a time.

 

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