‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir
‘Goodreads’ Summary: A mission to Mars. A freak accident. One man’s struggle to survive. Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
In my continued summer travels (hours upon hours) throughout this great nation, I came upon a gem of a story called ‘The Martian.’ Many of you will ask, ‘Isn’t that the movie with Matt Damon?’ Why, yes, it is! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but after reading the book I can’t wait to do so! After his greatest performance of all time in ‘Elysium’ (note sarcasm), ‘The Martian’ re-instilled my joy of good sci-fi…and THE FUTURE!
The reason I consider these book ‘responses’ instead of reviews are just for this situation. The book is great; very entertaining, and thought provoking. So thought provoking, in fact, that it got me thinking on another tangent: life is harder than it looks. I thought to myself, ‘man, this guy is struggling basically every single moment just to survive!’ I meet plenty of people who would describe their life as such. Yes, life can be tough, just to get through every day relatively unscathed.
But I also want to give credit to people who really do things well in life! While reading this book, it made me aware of just how hard people in this world work. The Olympics are a perfect example. Every four years I sit in front of my TV for two weeks straight, snack on some pretzels, drink some empty calories, and cheer on these athletes who compete in a variety of sports. After these two weeks are up, I will most likely go back to watching something else on TV, and not give much thought to what just happened during these Olympics.
Just think about the experience of these athletes for a second. They have been training for these moments (that sometimes only last a few seconds) for months, years, some the majority of their entire lives! They are competing against others who are the best in the world. In most cases they have spent countless hours in training, thousands of dollars in costs, and untold amounts of loss and sacrifice after turning down so many other options that life presents them with. They do this all for a chance to compete on the world’s stage…and then it will disappear again for another four years. In some ways, it reminds me of the trials of the Mark Watney character in this book; so much pressure, struggle, heartache, all for a slim chance at success.
I sit on my TV, watch a four foot tall girl flip through the air like a ninja, or watch a cyclist ride his bike up an entire mountain, or watch a teenager swim faster than anyone else on earth, and all I can think is, ‘Yay America!’ And then I go to bed worn out after my efforts to stay awake, snack, and watch the process unfold live halfway around the globe.
Life is not as easy as it looks. I used to look at different activities and think, ‘that looks fun and easy!’ In fact, I’ve had some wonderful experiences in my life of realizing just how hard life can be. Ever play guitar? Looks easy, right? I thought so too, until I learned the strength and dexterity that is needed in one’s fingers to hold each chord. I used to walk by beautiful gardens and think, ‘oh, that looks so fun and relaxing.’ Then I tried my hand at it, and realized the amount of time, commitment to detail, and back-breaking strength it sometimes takes to create such a beautiful garden. I grew up sitting in church thinking, ‘man, it must be so fun and easy to preach.’ Then I went to seminary and worked in the church, and realized the hours of preparation that goes into each worship service just so church members can say, ‘I enjoyed your message’ and move onto our Sunday brunch special we’ve been looking forward to all morning.
A great teaching example of just how hard things can be for me lately has been the art of long distance running. I grew up playing sports, so running has more or less always been around. I even started jogging regularly as I stayed in shape. However, it wasn’t until lately that I really have been giving running more of my attention. What have I learned? Running is so easy and fun…and so challenging and hard at the same time! In order to run at the peak of abilities, you can’t just get up and start running (at least not for the majority of us). Things I think about with running: what shoes should I be wearing? How is my form? How much water do I need? Do I need other energy sources? What is the weather going to be like? What is the terrain? How is my form? How is my heart rate? What time did I run my last mile? HOW IS MY FORM? The thoughts go on and on, over and over, every day. I can only imagine what the level of preparation is like for those who devote their entire life to such running like those we are watching in the Olympics this week.
Here’s the thing that I’m taking away this week after reading this great book, watching these great athletes, and reflecting on my own life experiences. Some clichés include: ‘God is in the details’ and ‘Sometimes the hardest things have the best rewards’….whoever said these things… are absolutely right. It’s when we really get into the details of something, when we really work and struggle, that we begin to appreciate the true beauty and greatness.
Mark Watney struggles every day just to survive, and he appreciates the simple act of living more so because of it. Our Olympians have struggled and worked every day to get to the point where they are at today, and it’s in the struggle and details that they can truly appreciate and take in the beauty of the sport. Go ahead and ask an athlete about their sport, and they can describe the activity in details that one could not even begin to imagine.
I used to run just to not get fat. Now as I run, as I learn the intricacies of such a practice, I begin to acknowledge a new world never known before. Yes, I struggle at times. But I also have discovered joy that I never previously knew existed. I breathe in breaths with my lungs that feel richer and deeper. I hear sounds that are clearer and more distinct. I see colors that are more vivid. I feel the hundreds of bones, ligaments, and tendons that I never before thought about before, now with each stride. This is when an activity becomes a practice not only for the primary activity itself, but for life as a whole.
I hope everyone takes the opportunity to really give their whole self to something in life. Yes, it will be tough; it’s not as easy as it looks. But I hope that within the struggle and challenge, the sweat and tears, one would discover the joy and beauty within. Most of us will not become such professionals or Olympians, but we can learn from the experience and the process. Perhaps this may lead to not only a greater appreciation for the activity, but for life in general. Perhaps, this is where we can find God.