I remember driving into the mountains when my youngest daughter was three years old. Even with what she could see from her car seat, she was enthralled.
“Wow,” she piped up in her wee voice, “those are big! We shouldn’t climb up there. We might fall down and get hurt!”
At the time, I’d only enjoyed the mountains from the bottom and I understood her exclamation, as I’d always thought them imposing and viewed them with a healthy fear.
When I was a child and my parents took us to the mountains and there were heights involved, I quaked inside watching my mother march up to the edge and lean over to get a better view. I was glued to the middle, the “safe zone”. The edge, for me, was a scary proposition where the pull of gravity might suck a chubby blondie over the side, if one ventured too close. I had visions of a sad cartoon version of me, eyes sprung out of their sockets, hair splayed out, face frozen forever in horror, limbs askew, flattened on the cracked earth. I’ve always had a vivid imagination.
Little did I know that some 14 years later, I would be climbing up where my daughter in her childlike wisdom said one should never go. A couple of years ago, I was trying to grow my account on Instagram and I came across a Christian man in my province whose posts consisted mainly of his mountain climbing adventures. I was intrigued and followed him and, that same summer, my son and I went on our first hike with him, his sister, and a few friends and this was the beginning of my passion for mountain climbing.
I have another friend locally that I hike with whose approach is more relaxed than my hard-core friends from Calgary. This past Monday, she and I were on the trail up to Sofa Mountain in Waterton Lakes National Park, an hour and a half from where I live. The trail seemed straight forward enough at the beginning, but it was soon unclear as to the best way to ascend. I trusted my partner’s GPS route and began to trudge up the scree. Now, for those of you who’ve never climbed a mountain before scree is “a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain.” (Oxford Dictionaries) I imagine there will be scree in hell, so tedious and, often, precarious it is. You do a lot of sliding away from your desired destination, much to your consternation. Soon enough, I was on my own with my partner bowing out to sit quietly creek-side and watch the herd of mountain sheep grazing at the base of the mountain. I was determined to go up, though, and she was gracious enough to let me go.
As I was going up, I realized something. Even though I’m an introvert and a fiercely independent person, at that moment, slogging up the scree, I wanted people around me. I missed looking up ahead to see my fellow climbers suffering the same frustration, but still making headway, a great motivating factor when you feel like sitting down in a hot huff on your tuchus or turning around altogether. When I got to the last part of the scramble, where I would have to climb hands and feet and pop up over the top, that desire for people became an all-out need. My friend from Calgary tells me I’m at an intermediate level, climbing-wise, and I think he’s being generous, but I felt the dearth of my inexperience weighing on me. If I fell, there would be no one to help me, except that my girl friend would be left waiting down below wondering what had happened to me and my limp, broken body would be overrun by the hideous, chunky, black spiders I saw scurry under rocks at my approach, which, for me, is almost a fate worse than death. I would cease to be Polly and become that tragic, “shake your head” news story, the lady who went up the mountain alone and fell and died alone.
I turned around. I took pictures from the height I had achieved and started the arduous journey back down. I congratulated myself for making it as far as I did, rather than viewing my attempt as a failure. I re-joined my friend and felt good about a day of hard work and good judgement in the sunshine, fresh air, and shadow of the mountains.
Fast forward to Saturday. My friends from Calgary were itching to go out, but rain and thunderstorms were looming in their mountain playground. Did I have the hike for them! I took my position, the klutzy straggler, at the back of the pack and we began our tramp through the forest and then our ascent. The entire way, from top to bottom, better climbers than I came along side me, giving me helpful tips, telling me where to put my hands and feet or where not to, leading me onward. The confidence and security I felt being a part of this group of experienced mountain people gave me just what I needed to accomplish my goal of reaching the summit safely and returning home to hike another day.
That’s life, isn’t it? We need each other. We were made for community. This bizarre time of global flu, racial unrest, and economic downturn has opened our eyes to just how dependent we are on each other, to just how necessary each one of us is to keeping our societies strong, healthy, and humming. It’s truly amazing what we’re capable of when
we cooperate and this time of crisis has only magnified this truth. If we had failed to come together, to offer what we have to the collective for the sake of the common good, we would have been headed for a serious tumble, but people are doing their parts, even sacrificially, with courage and determination, from the thousands sheltering in place, to the tireless work of those deemed essential, to the neighbors buying groceries and picking up prescriptions, to the many drive-by celebrations and gestures of gratitude. In spite of the all the chaos, uncertainty, death, grief, and anger there’s still hope, light, love, and joy in the world.
As someone who has struggled with mental illness in the past, it’s my family and friends who are keeping me from disappearing into a fog of depression right now. I was trying to curtail my use of social media before the pandemic arrived, but quickly reconsidered, feeling like the need for connection, any connection, was better than the loneliness I was experiencing. It’s not just people’s help that we need, but their personality and presence. We need people who inspire, lead, and teach us, people who’ll challenge us to move from comfort to courage and cheer us on to personal growth, people who’ll warn us when we’re being self-destructive, people who’ll protect us and put us back together when we’re hurting, and people who get our particular brand of silliness. Friends are God-ordained. Though, some people joke about preferring their dog to humans, God, after having Adam name the animals, demonstrated that an animal could never meet the deep soul need we have for each other by creating Eve.
In response to the pandemic, our church has developed a program called Bridge Builders to make sure people don’t become too isolated and that their needs are met. Congregants volunteered to call others on a regular basis to check in. As I said before, I’m an introvert, not one who enjoys or ever pursues small talk, much less chatting on the phone. I’m grateful for those people who took this on, this ministry of coming along side others, even those they don’t know well, in this strange time of physical distancing and staying home. I pray that God will bless their obedience and kindness with joy and new friendships.
The writer of Ecclesiastes expresses the benefits of togetherness simply and perfectly. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has
no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) On that day, when I was alone atop the hard rockface of the mountain, I needed the warmth and support of a companion more than I needed to reach the summit. I hope this memory will remind me to reach out to friends, not just because I need them, but because they need me, too. I’m afraid I’m not very good at friendship, probably less so now when there’s some fear involved in meeting others, but I’ve been working on it over the last couple of years, making and keeping friends (you can read about that here). I encourage you to seek out the company of friends and, of course, loved ones, as soon as possible, and regularly. Look in each other’s eyes. Give each other the gift of your full attention. Share feelings. Express concern. Smile and laugh. Journey up that proverbial mountain together, as you were meant to, and be comforted, strengthened, and blessed!
Feature Pic by George Mach http://2litresofsoysaucecom.blogspot.com/2020/06/. All other pics mine except where noted.
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