August 8, 2014

A Psychologist and a Burning Bridge on the PCT- Why Not?

This is a story I have been meaning to write for a long time. It radiates through my mind as one of the most spiritual and uplifting days on my Pacific Crest Trail Journey. All because a stranger decided to act upon his inclination.

Tears streamed down my eyes as I left the Mexican border at sunset. All of the negative thoughts that people put in my head were being flushed away with happiness. "You can't." "You shouldn't." "What if?" "You'll die." "Why?" These common statements were quite annoying. "How are you affording it?" Even I wasn't sure if I had saved up enough, but I was doing my best and going after a dream that had sparked my mind 8 years prior. It was more than a hike to Canada. It was a hike for my dad in a spiritual kind of sense, while raising funds for people affected by Multiple Sclerosis.

Being 12 years old, and having my father diagnosed with a debilitating disease raised many questions and battles in my head. My solution was to ignore it. I played an out of sight, out of mind game but still found myself asking why. Why the suffering? Why the pain? I loved my dad and I didn't want to see him hurt.

"Why?" This question was answered by a person who I now call my trail psychologist and who also drove me under a burning bridge in southern California. This was also the day, I later found out, it was Sigmund Freud's birthday.

As I used every outlet possible in a coffee shop, I was soon coming to the realization that somehow my phone was fried. An older gentleman kept trying to talk to me. Out of self defense, I was half listening because I didn't know this guy and I could figure this out by myself. Then I got this overwhelming sense that he sincerely just wanted to help me figure out my problem, so I obliged. Reuben owned the psychology office next door, and offered to drive me to get my cellphone fixed.

This required a 30 minute drive, a 30 minute wait, a 30 minute drive, and a 30 minute wait to only be told that I needed a brand new phone. "To get one for free, you can drive 30 minutes to this store," explained an associate. With no hesitation, Reuben said, "OK, Let's go." This was the first time I had allowed myself to hitch hike with a complete stranger, yet I grew increasingly comfortable. He talked about his family, his profession, and his faith while I listened intently and watched the busy road in front of us.


All of a sudden I saw billowing black smoke in the distance! At a closer glance, we noticed the overpass was completely engulfed in giant flames. Having fought some wild land fires, I thought for sure people would pull over. How could they? They had places to be, and there was 4 lanes of dense traffic pulsating through the flames. Reuben hit the gas pedal as we drove under the scorching oven. I screamed and curled in the fetal position with my hands over my head as if I'd catch the bridge about to fall on me.


What? We made it! "Oh my gosh," I screamed! I looked over as Reuben was hysterically laughing at me.
"What?" I innocently asked.
"You are hiking to Canada alone, and THAT scared you?" Reuben asked.
"Well ya! I never envisioned myself conquering a burning bridge!" I laughed.
He shook his head, and to this day I still don't understand why.
Below is the news video about the event.

The rest of that day was full of psychology theories and discovering more about how myself and other people operate. After our 8 hour day of finding me a new free phone, there was plenty of time for him to educate me. When we finally made it back to his house, Reuben took me to meet his wife. I was given a warm shower and bed after they took me and my stenchy clothes out to the nicest restaurant in town. With Rueben's extended offer, I decided to hang out another day so I could get some paperwork finished for my Dental Hygiene application for licensure. 200 miles prior to this day, I received news that I passed my Dental Hygiene boards that I took the day before starting the PCT. It felt like I was conquering the world!

When Rueben got back from his appointments with clients the next day, I had tons of questions to ask! He deals with some interesting minds, so of course a main question was, "How do you handle some of these situations with clients and not go crazy yourself?" His response was about putting yourself in their shoes, giving them the tools they need, and leaving the rest up to them. From that, I learned that I have the kind of personality that will think I did something wrong if people don't respond to my help in a positive way. People who really care for others tend to make another person's situation their own. A psychologist gives a person tools and thoughts to use, but realizes the choice of the matter is totally up to the person being counseled.That point was taken home and drilled into my newly branched brain cells that were glowing from much of the education I had received in this short stay with Reuben.


Later, Rueben did an exercise that completely threw me for a loop. It was about an hour long. He started talking to my subconscious mind and asked for my conscious mind to relax. He asked my subconscious mind to tell him the first number that pops in my head when he asks about my mental age. As I sat there laughing, I said, "20?" My conscious was confused, but that was the first number that came to mind. He explained the number should equal my real age, and further explained that any deviation is often caused by a traumatic event in one's life. Hmmm. I had no idea what he was talking about and thought this whole Frued thing was silly. "Think back at what year it was, and if anything happened in that year," He said.
I sat there thinking for a while.


All of a sudden, the specific memory reached through my mind and slapped me in the face causing my eyes to swell with tears. I never cry in front of anyone, and he had just about done it!

Instantly he knew it was bothering me and told me that I didn't have to talk about it if I didn't want. So, of course I did! I couldn't just leave it hanging there like a massive dark cloud in the room. It was an event that turned my life upside down. An event that left me asking why again and again. I had always trusted people, been very giving, and was a good person. So why didn't I get that in return? It was in that moment, 6 years ago, where I learned not to fully trust. Once again, I was left asking, "why?" with no definite answer in return.

Various events in a person's life can dig at their soul. No matter how much one tries to shake it, something will bring that event bursting forward. This can affect all one's thoughts about everything in life. Reuben says many people ask why, or they blame God. Reuben lost a beautiful son at a young age, and probably asked that question for many years.

In the end, the answer is simple, and I wish I could say it with as much grace as Reuben portrayed. The answer is, "Why not?" Bad things happen to people all of the time around the world. What makes one person think that they are special enough to not have anything happen to them?  Asking why is natural, but obsessed upon is selfish and destructive.

So the next time you find yourself asking why; do yourself a favor. If you haven't come up with an answer, ask yourself, "Why not?" Perspective is everything.


Rueben and I now laugh about our first meeting experience. Something brought us together. He wasn't even suppose to be at his office that day. Plus, I was ignoring him at first but he felt the sense to help me. Whether it was God or chance that brought us together, in the end it was our own free will to accept and act upon those inclinations.


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