“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll
You know those days when you wake up and just know that it’s going to be a good day? Some days I wake up with butterflies in my stomach and productivity seeping from my pores. The 90% on those days isn’t so important, because it’s easy to respond well to good things. It’s those other days though, the darker ones, that make the 90% important.
I have had my fair share of dark days, but only one has left me curled up, ice cold, on the floor of a ger in the middle of Mongolia.
It was the summer before my junior year. My friend, Maddie, and I were riding horseback through the steppes of Mongolia staying in different gers (traditional, portable tents that are homes for nomads) every night.
Needless to say, it was an adventure. One day even more so than the rest…
Maddie and I woke up to what seemed like an ordinary day on our trip. We brushed our teeth in the company of 100 goats outside the ger. After pulling on our riding jeans, we joined the rest of the group to saddle up for another full day of riding.
This particular day, we rode through some tougher terrain, and although we all made it, the van (on the left in the picture above) carrying our duffel bags did not. Our host family from the previous evening lent us their yaks to carry our sleeping bags and one change of clothes. The rest was left behind. So, minus one man and plus two yaks, we continued on our way. Honestly, the days all blended together, but there was never a dull moment when we were riding. It was peaceful and frightening all at the same time. The landscape of the steppes is absolutely breathtaking, but the idea that just a few days before, the horses were wild would occasionally disrupt that serenity. Can you blame me though? I love horses, but they were WILD. We literally, and I do mean literally, lassoed them.
It was one of the longer days of riding, so we arrived at the next ger right before dark. We were all beat and hoping to go to bed. Since the yaks had not arrived yet with our sleeping bags, we decided to play a couple rounds of Mafia, a group favorite. A couple hours passed and still no yaks. Something was up. Eljas, our translator, came into the ger and told us that the yaks had run away with our sleeping bags.
I don’t know how much you know about Mongolia, but it gets cold at night. The owners of the ger and Eljas went off to search for the yaks while the rest of us tried to get some sleep. I said tried.
We were all given blankets, but like everything I encountered in Mongolia, they smelled like goats. Believe me, Maddie and I, sharing both the bed and the blanket, were very grateful for the hospitality. Despite that, we convinced ourselves that we didn’t need the blanket. About 20 minutes later, the same blanket we were quick to reject was up to our ears as we struggled to find even the smallest amount of warmth. Maddie recalls, “I thought for sure that was how I was going to die: in the middle of Mongolia from hypothermia all because some yaks ran away with our sleeping bags.”
We spent the entire evening taking turns being the big and little spoon. On a scale of one to winning the lottery, being the little spoon well surpassed winning the lottery. I mean, I’ve never actually won the lottery, but I can imagine.
The lowest point of the night was when I realized that the weird chattering noise I kept hearing was the sound of our own teeth. We were that cold. It was then that Maddie and I decided it was in our best interest to sleep on the floor closer to the fire in the middle of the ger. Best. Decision. Ever.
We finally got to sleep. Granted, it was morning by then, and we only slept for around 45 minutes, but as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers. Curled up on the ground as the sun shone through little openings of the ger, we started to laugh. Out of sheer exhaustion or actual humor, I’m not quite sure. Probably a little bit of both. Whatever it was, at that exact moment, Eljas threw open the door of the ger and started throwing in our sleeping bags. They found the yaks! I’ll give you a moment to process that information. Two yaks ran away in the middle of Mongolia and a few men on horseback were able to track them down. I still don’t know how they found the yaks and frankly, I don’t care.
Thinking about it now makes me laugh, but at the time, it was anything but funny. I don’t even want to imagine how I would have felt if Maddie wasn’t there, and I know Maddie feels the same way about having me there. We gave each other hope with continuous reminders that neither of us was alone. It wasn’t a solution to the overarching problem, but it got us through and sometimes that is all you need.
I can’t say I would want to relive that night, but hey, it makes good story. More importantly, that was the first major moment for me in learning that you can’t control everything. I can’t control everything. What I can control is how I react. It’s not easy, I know. It is something I work on everyday. The only thing I can say for sure is that in those dark times, it’s a lot easier to react well if you have someone in your life that you can trust. That goes both ways. It’s just as important to be the person that someone trusts as it is to have someone you trust yourself. Remember that it is okay not to have all the answers. No one expects you to. If that night in Mongolia taught me anything, it is that sometimes you just need to know that you aren’t alone.
Thank you Maddie. Although you didn’t choose to be there for me physically, you did choose to be there for me emotionally. I only hope I was able to do the same. To show my gratitude, I tracked down this extremely attractive photograph of us enjoying life as nomads. Enjoy.
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