‘Meaningful’ doesn’t have to be something newsworthy

One afternoon last week I went for a walk at Fort Ward and got in 15,000 steps. While treating myself to a celebratory beer, I ran across an article about a woman named Melanie Vogel who recently finished solo hiking the 15,000-mile Trans Canada Trail, making her the first woman to complete the coast-to-coast route on foot.

Vogel’s hike had her touching the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans. It took her five years to complete the trek, which began in Cape Spear, Newfoundland on June 2, 2017 with the original goal of completing the trek in two years. But COVID travel restrictions threw a wrench into her timeline, forcing her to remain in the Yukon Territory for a year and a half. Prior to completing the Trans Canada Trail, Vogel’s longest hike had been a 10-day trek to Nepal’s Annapurna base camp.

I am in awe of Vogel’s commitment and determination in completing her trek. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that her achievement had the unintended effect of belittling my 15,000-step walk at Fort Ward. I had the same feeling back in July I when reported that Bob Salem became only the fourth person to push a peanut up Pikes Peak with his nose. Like Vogel’s incredible trek, Salem’s accomplishment left me feeling jealous for having never completed a similar physical challenge.

Adding insult to injury, this past November I read about a Philadelphia man who ate an entire rotisserie chicken every day for 40 consecutive days. 31-year-old Alexander Tominsky, a restaurant server in Philly, set off on his gastronomic quest largely for personal philanthropic reasons — Tominsky said because there is so much pain in the world right now, he wanted to do something that would bring him pain in order to make others smile.

I won’t even mention the case of the man who spent 24 hours in a Waffle House restaurant as “punishment” for finishing last in his fantasy football league. (The loser could shave an hour off his “sentence” for every waffle he ate while in the Waffle House, the first recorded instance of an imprisoned person getting time off for bad behavior).

Salem’s legume legacy, Tominsky’s roast chicken challenge, and Vogel’s heroic hiking left me feeling that my life might be without meaning or substance unless I too can dream up and complete a comparable personal challenge.

So I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for some feat of physical strength or endurance that I can undertake to give my life meaning and purpose. I’ve pretty much ruled out any feats involving eating enormous quantities of food or consuming specific foods in record speed. In a world where so many struggle just to find enough to eat, stuffing oneself for entertainment seems less like a noble accomplishment and more like an exercise in insensitivity and waste.

I no longer run if I can avoid it, so I can’t set a record for a long-distance run. Besides, Bainbridge Islander Greg Nance has already stolen most of the thunder for any such an effort by running across America in 84 days. My idea of running backwards from my house to Walt’s Market and back suddenly sounds pretty lame. I thought about solo hiking the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails in the same year, but Hallie Swan of BI has already beaten me to that challenge.

I don’t think growing my fingernails to a length of 3 feet or my beard down to my belt carries quite enough gravitas to make my life rich and meaningful. I was about ready to give up trying to find a way to make my life meaningful when my 3-year-old grandson Owen came over to spend the afternoon with me (recently) while his mom and dad ran errands. Owen and I had a busy afternoon of stacking blocks and Lincoln logs, putting Christmas stickers on the window, riding the lawnmower, eating macaroni and cheese for lunch, reading books and taking well-deserved naps.

My afternoon with Owen may not get me in the newspapers or on TV, but for those precious hours, there was no place on earth I would rather have been, and nothing I’d rather have been doing, and if that doesn’t define a meaningful life, then I don’t know what does.

Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.