What I’m Reading: Oracle Code
When I look closely, I’m finding inspiration everywhere, including the Young Adult (YA) graphic novel, The Oracle Code, by Marieke Nijkamp. I’d borrowed this book from the library several times, but I’d overlooked it until I noticed it on a list of recommended books similar to others I’d enjoyed.
Oracle Code Summary
Hacker Barbara “Babs” Gordon gets injured in a shooting accident and finds herself in a wheelchair trying to solve the puzzle behind the unusual rehabilitation center her father sends her to. When Jena, a new friend at the center, disappears, Babs enlists the help of Benjamin, a rooftop hacking friend from outside the center, to try to help her solve the mystery.
A female protagonist (check!) overcoming physical obstacles (check!) in a mystery (check!) Sounds a lot like something I’ve helped people do for over two decades. Perhaps that’s why it resonated with me.
Quotes that Inspire
Two quotes from Nijkamp’s story jumped out at me.
“Losing is only permanent if you stop trying.” (p. 95) Another way to say it is the only way you can lose is to quit completely. As long as you are willing to try new things, explore different ideas, and consider a variety of ways to reach your end goal, you are still in the game of life.
One of the very first hikes I went on when I moved to Seattle in 1990 was Mt. Si. At the time, it seemed like a fun way to get outside with a friend from graduate school for some exercise. In 1999, my husband and I joined the Basic Climbing program with the Seattle Mountaineers. Hikes became a way to get in condition for technical peaks. Our daughter joined us in 2004, and our dozen annual climbs shrank to one a year. Hikes became very short.
When Governor Inslee closed all hiking trails in Washington in March of 2020, I felt a profound sense of loss–of freedom, independence, choice, fresh air, discovery, and exploration. I had to get back on the trails. At the very first opportunity, the day Inslee lifted restrictions, I returned to the trails and have been hiking ever since, sometimes three times a week. I had no idea when I started hiking that it would grow into something so important.
If something prevents you from doing what you want to do, like COVID did for me eighteen months ago, try to name it. Would you call it fear? Uncertainty? Overwhelm?
Nijkamp writes: “It’s fear that keeps us sharp, that keeps us going, that keeps us figuring out the unknown.” (p. 190) The next time you’re afraid, ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that can happen? Can you expect the best while being prepared for the worst? How likely will that fear materialize? Who can support you if it does?
Inspiration from Others’ Demons
Lest everyone out there thinks trainers waltz up every mountain they choose, please realize that I could have let any one of three big obstacles stop me. My hope is my story will inspire you to move forward.
Lower Back Pain
While I’ve never been in a wheelchair like Nijkamp’s protagonist, Babs, I have battled lower back pain since the late 1990s. I first noticed problems while rowing starboard for my college’s crew. However, it only became debilitating when I competed in powerlifting, a sport involving single-repetition maximum lifts in the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.
Flare-ups sometimes last for days, and even now, if I neglect my sleep, get too stressed out, eat foods I know cause systemic inflammation, or take shortcuts with my training, I end up hunched over like a ninety-year-old woman. Lower back pain is no fun for anyone. Fortunately, by learning to manage mine, I can also help others manage theirs. I’ve turned adversity into an opportunity.
Until July 2019, I was addicted to sugar. Giving up sugar was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Alcoholics can avoid liquor; drug addicts can stop using; gamblers can steer clear of casinos and betting. But since sugar is pretty much added to everything these days (beyond the obvious sweets, it’s also found in breath mints, gum, yogurt, tomato sauce, dried fruit, nearly every cereal, etc.), it requires hyper-vigilance to avoid consuming.
(Note: If you feel you or a loved one is battling addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, gaming, exercise, gambling, etc., a great resource is In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate.)
Now I cringe thinking about how many batches of cookies, bars of chocolate, bags of mint M&M’s, cans of sodas, and bottles of diet Peach Snapple I’ve consumed over the past three decades. When I reread some of my journals, I know that my earlier obsession with food was likely fueled by a psychological dependence on sugar. Struggling to overcome not one but five addictions gives me tremendous empathy for the struggles of my clients. I know firsthand how enormously challenging it is. And if I can find a way through it, so can my clients.
One look at my freckles and red hair and you can probably guess I’m of Scotch-Irish heritage. I’ve had four Moh’s procedures to remove skin cancers from my face and additional surgeries to remove basal cell carcinomas. For two summers, I wouldn’t go outside between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. unless every inch of my skin was covered. Now, I know how to choose appropriate hikes and manage the timing of my outings to keep my skin protected. I also know how crucial it is to get natural vitamin D from sufficient exposure to the sun while not burning.
Every single one of us carries baggage or has reasons to quit. We will always face obstacles and struggles. And until I can no longer breathe, I know I will continue to be challenged. Take a good hard look at what you’re carrying around. How has it weighed you down? What can you do to overcome it?
Because you can. You are the hero or heroine of your own story. One of my favorite song lyrics comes from Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. Obstacles test us and make us grow stronger and wiser. Use greatness everywhere — fiction and biographies, songs and hikes — to help motivate you.
A sign over my desk includes a quote by Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” As long as you keep trying new things, you have not lost. I admire courage like Babs’ in The Oracle Code who shows inner strength to adapt and move on with her life. Reading about female protagonists overcoming tremendous physical adversity inspires me to take better care of myself.
When you feel like giving up, think about why you started in the first place. Whether you run marathons, climb mountains, play music, or write poetry, you do it for some reason. What does that thing provide you? What could it provide you if you let go of your fear and the word can’t? Can you get back in touch with the younger you and feel the joy, excitement, or curiosity you first had?