Why do we climb when we cannot stay upon the mountain? Why do we love when we know that the other person or we will be parted in death? Why do we love colleagues when we know one of us will retire or go first? Why do we aspire for great achievements when we know that, if we are honest, we know that another will come along one day and wrest away whatever title we attain? I think perhaps Rene Daumal said it well,
“You cannot stay on the summit forever,
You have to come down again…
So why bother in the first place?
Just this: what is above knows what is below;
But what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer,
But one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself
in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw
While there are a multitude of reasons to aspire for excellence, something about the climb transforms us. And when we reach the summit, we look down and we are changed yet again. Even as we descend, we know we are changed.
“There are places to go and things to do,” my seventy year old Grandmother told me years a go before she departed on a trip to Egypt.
Living three lifetimes in one, she traveled the world for years after her beloved husband passed on. Never losing her zest for life, she went until she could go no more.
The Greatest Adventures Often Require that You Face Your Fears
In a poetic twist of life that Granny would have loved, I was watching my grandmother be Life Flighted to Knoxville at the Camilla airport when I got a call about the opportunity of a lifetime. A major technology company wanted to send me to South Africa to “cover” a conference on social media. They would pay but I would have to go alone and meet other educators there.
As I watched my Grandmother's plane taxi and cried tears knowing I had just seen her alive for the very last time, I talked to my husband Kip. I was afraid to go. But I had to tell them yes or no – that day. I couldn't wait to get past the tears of that moment or to tuck my preteens in that night. I had to decide.
And Kip said something that has shaped my life,
“I know it is Africa and I know you're scared. But I also know you. You have traveled to China and India and the Middle East. You have gone places and you have many places still left to go. I want to go with you, but this time I can't. Your Grandmother traveled alone and so can you.
This is an adventure for you and you will live the rest of your life regretting it if you do not go. So, I'm telling you to go. I know you're scared, but go.”
So, I made the climb. I went. And I ate warthog and saw native dancers. I saw penguins on the Cape and kept the monkeys from stealing my purse. I saw waves crashing upon the rocks and animals I cannot even name. Epic memories. Unforgettable. And very worth facing my fears. And trust me, there were lots of them in the days before you could get a dependable mobile phone to work in a foreign country.
Then, two years later when I was given the chance to go to Dubai, alone, I didn't hesitate. I went. And I've gone and gone. And now the kids are older and Kip can go with me. But I didn't wait to live my life. I went. I faced my fears and made the climb.
The pain of loss is real.
Those who are excellent do not let the prospective pain of loss or loneliness hold them back from adventure. Although a mountain climber knows he or she will be sad when having to turn for home, it is not utter sadness and despondency.
For mountain tops are not made for us to live upon, unless the mountain is low indeed. The highest mountains are uninhabitable for long, but climbable by some.
Oh, there are still mountains I long to climb in this life although the clock ticks and the sun grows high in the sky.
There are people I wish to tie a rope to as we make the journey on slick ice bridges and along the steep crevasse.
Fires crackle in my mind as I long to listen to the tales of great storytellers as we rest after the day's work.
And although the hands of the ones I love grow cold, I shall still love and hold their hands.
And although the trophies that may be won gather dust, it is still worth seeking to be excellent.
One day, I'll end the flight of my life and embark on my greatest adventure yet. But not now.
The Stories We Treasure
Our greatest life stories not when the trophy is held aloft or the climber looks down upon the valley below, but the journey in getting there.
The greatest prizes are not trophies nor making “the list” nor even being highly esteemed in the eyes of others. The greatest joys in life are the memories we make, lives we change, and adventures we undertake as we seek to live out our life's purpose, which, for me, is to honor the God who made me in everything.
Climbing changes us.
We see things differently. Perhaps we see how small we are or how big the mountain, or bigger still the Creator.
Perhaps we long to ascend to where the air is thin and the people are few and nothing exists except our striving to continue to live another moment. Life is simple when your next breath is all you want.
Or perhaps it is to do what people say you cannot or to accomplish that which you doubt yourself.
Whatever other people's reasons for climbing, I feel quite like a Hobbit who has adventures awaiting beyond the shire.
For, deep within our souls I think we long to climb high to look down upon the world and say,
“I did this one thing and this one thing did not do me in.”
Oh, dear friends, the adventures that await you on your journey!
Yet, how sad are those who refuse to travel — shackled by the countless fears that fetter their feet and pinion them to the earth below — when they are meant to climb!
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