When i was in high school one of my teachers gave us a personality test for fun. It was short and to the point. It asked if we would rather live in a cabin in the mountains or in a home at the beach. I had no problem answering. I would always prefer living in the mountains. I find them to be majestically beautiful and soothing to my soul. I was stunned to learn from the results that my answer indicated that I was a close-minded person who does not enjoy being with people. How choosing the mountains over the ocean might signify something like that is beyond me, so I totally disregarded the analysis as being poppycock.
I have always loved the mountains. They are like a stairway to heaven, a miraculous place that is both challenging and humbling. Most of our family vacations were spent camping in a tent near a mountain. When I was strong and fit the mountains called me to hike to their summits. I would spend entire days walking higher and higher on switchbacks that tested my endurance and strength. My lungs would sometimes gasp for air as I rose higher and higher and the air became thin. I pushed myself to keep going even when I felt exhausted and ready to quit. Making it to the summit was undeniably rewarding with vistas that seemed to continue past the horizon. I always felt that I had achieved something worthwhile and important as I shared my victory with others who had walked with me along the paths to the top.
Even in the toughest of times I am able to mentally return to those grueling walks and realize that I have much more determination inside me than I ever dreamed. I know that I am able to endure challenges and emerge tired but victorious. The mountains made me feel alive and part of something way bigger than myself. They helped me to realize that I have mastery over myself but that I am little more than a speck in the grand scheme of things.
Looking down from the top of a mountain I realized the importance of working together with my fellow humans. I would not have finished many of those journeys without the company and encouragement of others who came with me. I might have become too weary to continue alone. With the help of others I was unafraid because we shared the experience together.
Life is so much like climbing a mountain. There are times that are so difficult that we look up and feel certain that we can’t succeed. We have to force ourselves to begin the journey by taking one small step and then another. If we have people who care about us, urging us on, we suddenly realize that we have made progress even though it is incredibly slow. We feel encouraged to keep pushing onward and upward, sometimes with an aching in our bodies and souls that threatens to defeat us. We see the summit ahead and we tell ourselves that we can do just a bit more and then some more. Eventually we realize that we have almost reached the peak and so we find the energy that we need to take the final steps. We rejoice that we have overcome our worries, our problems, the voices that hold us back and make us fearful. There are few better feelings.
Just as I have journeyed to the top of many mountains, so too has my life been beset by challenges that at first seemed daunting. I could not imagine growing up without a father, but I did. I wanted to run away from my mother’s mental illness, but instead I stayed and helped her. In the early years of marriage my husband developed a rare disease that often kills the people who contract it. I hated what was happening to my young family and did not think that I would make it alone while my husband was in the hospital. With the help of countless friends, I managed and my husband became well with the expertise of doctors. I worked full time while studying for a master’s degree. There came a time when I was exhausted and wanted to quit. My brother was a cheerleader who urged me to keep going. I got my degree and felt so proud. I never thought I would be able to quench my long held desire to write, and yet I have found time to tap the keys on my laptop and share my stories with an audience of people that I know and some that I have never met. The mountains taught me that with determination I can push myself through moments of discouragement and exhaustion. They showed me that I can accomplish my dreams.
I must admit that these tumultuous times are making me anxious. There is too much anger and division and hate in the world at a time when I would be content to just lead a quiet life. I find the mountains calling me but I am no longer able to hike to the top. My knees are worn, my bones are more fragile, my back has a tendency to ache. Now I can only sit at the bottom and gaze upward, remembering how glorious it was to feel as one with the power of the steep prominence. I have to imagine myself overcoming my own shortcomings and finding an inner strength that I did not know was there. As I think on such things I remember that there is great glory in the world, but we have to fight for it together. We are unlikely to get anywhere alone.
I am hopeful that we humans will relearn how to work together again. I know how important it is for us to value each other and work in a spirit of cooperation. I will do my own part to tone down the anger and devote my energy to bringing people together. No person, group or nation has ever succeeded by constantly fighting and insulting one another. Progress only happens when we respect our differences and use our talents together for the betterment of all. The mountain that we all now climb is in our hearts. One step at a time we should begin the approach to the summit where hopefully we will find that the rhetoric and discord of the past few years is gone. The mountains are calling us to work toward achieving a world of cooperation for the betterment of all. We will need all of our strength along with the help of our fellow travelers to get there. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.