Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Overcoming Mountains (or 1 particular mountain)

A few weeks ago I climbed a mountain. Seriously, no exaggeration, it was an actual mountain, so high and grueling that I even had to pee in the woods by the trail. It was both a frightening and freeing bathroom experience. At any rate, equipped with rations, cute hiking shoe, and a pack of strong manly friends, I declared myself fit and ready for the 8-mile hike.

I should have known that I was in for more than I bargained for when I barely made it through the drive to the hike. When the winding roads finally stopped and I stumbled out of the car, queasy and unsure of my footing, I was already considered telling my comrades to go on with out me. But I was the reason we were on the hike, so I had to move forward.

The first mile I was fine. Though I huffed and puffed a bit as my lungs adjusted to the elevation, I was cheery and determined. At about mile 2.5 I changed my tune. We were steadily gaining in altitude and my body began rejecting every step. I was physically pushing my legs to go on, and every few (very slow) steps I would stop and yell up to my patient (and more in shape) hiking partners:

"I hate this!" "Guys, this mountain is stupid." "I'm not going any farther. . . no really this time. I can't do it." "Can we please just not go on? Come on! Look at this view!"

As the air got thinner and the adversities seemed to pile higher I convinced myself that I was incapable of climbing this mountain. I lost my joy for the journey, my ambition, and my resolve to overcome this obstacle. As I got closer and closer to the top my view was clouded by my own complaints. 

To be honest, I quite expected the boys to become fed up with me. I was slowing them down considerably and my attitude was becoming obnoxious, even to me! But to my surprise, they never gave up on believing in me. At each turn they would wait, building me up with encouragement, being patient, kind, and never (visibly) frustrated or angry. They certainly couldn't carry me up the hill (though I wished they could!), but what they could do was help me remember the beauty that awaited us at the peak. When I fell behind they would rearrange the hiking line, putting one person behind me to keep me with the pack. They were the only thing moving me forward, and mile after mile they coaxed me to the top.

When we finally got to the peak the view was breathtaking. Situated above the cloud line it felt like we were on the top of the world. As I breathed in my surroundings, my aching legs finally at rest, situated between three of my closest guy friends, all the pain and agony of the climb began to transform. The pain was still there, but now it represented a refreshing sense of accomplishment. I had literally overcome a mountain. I had done what had felt impossible, and I had done it for me. 

I spend most of my time on the reservation cheering other people on, trying to convince them to overcome their mountains, to move forward to the beauty that surely lies ahead. I watch as my students struggle to overcome the steep cliffs and sharp turns. I rejoice with them as they get closer to the peak, and I try to believe in them when they no longer believe in themselves. Each adversity they face is an insurmountable mountain for them, and I desperately want to help them get to the top.

But I didn't realize how much of their weight I was carrying until I had to physically overcome my own mountain. I didn't realize how much I needed to overcome something, to feel the freedom in my mind, body, and soul, to stand on top of a mountain that I had climbed. And it wasn't until those boys loved me enough to keep with me that I saw how essential it is for us to not climb these mountains alone. 

On that day, with all the complaining, pain, and hard work, I overcame something. I found a new freedom in doing something hard for myself, not for anyone else. And I came down the mountain with a strength to continue pushing my students to keep going. 
Because even though you still feel the pain at the finish line, and even though you don't forget the hardships, there is new life at the peak, and it is always, always worth every mile. 

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