Pure Luck and I hopped in the car on Monday to visit Shopping Village in the Whites. We booked a room in a not cheap, but pretty tacky motel, all for the sake of the in-room Jacuzzi, something on which we occasionally splurge (and by occasionally I mean five times in six years). We planned a hike of minor proportions, one we did four years ago when Molly was such a small pup she needed lifting over things. The idea was to see how much progress I’ve made both walking and on the elliptical, to enjoy a view from the ledges of the particular mountain, and to be sure I wasn’t too exhausted or lame to enjoy the rest of our brief getaway. After all, this was to be my time of re-creation.
After dropping the dogs at the kennel, we enjoyed the lovely ride to SV in the W. We drove through town, spied out our lodgings for the night, then turned onto Hurricane Mountain Road. It’s one of those hairpin roads between mountains that they close in the wintertime.
Apparently April 17th is still wintertime if you live in SV in the W.
We turned the car around.
“I know another place we can go,” intoned my husband.
“Is it a lot harder than this would have been?”
A brief silence ensued.
“No, no, it’s not much harder.”
“I’m not sure I believe you,” I said. You see, my friends, I’ve been down this road before.
“Well, let’s just try it.”
I’ve been down that road, too. “Let’s just try it” means “If we start, we will finish, and there will be no excuses short of a medical emergency so dire as to require a helicopter evacuation.”
The word Ledge should have been my second clue that the hike would be more than I had anticipated on this particular day.
“There is a small steep section,” said my husband reassuringly, as if there might be a steep section roughly the length of a flight of stairs.
What I would like to know is how a person 11 feet tall can confidently stand up straight when the world to his left or right is sloping away at a vertigo-inducing angle? I know this 5’ tall woman could not. The “small steep section” – actually most of the trail to the top – found me on my hands and knees, clinging to whatever was close at hand, using moss as a railing, and absolutely paralyzed if I happened to look either up or down. In those moments of panic, I would hear the deep voice of my husband saying, “The earth will support you. The rocks and the trees are here to help you. It’s just like going up a flight of stairs.”
Right. The Stairway to Heaven!!
But Reader, I married him, and by now I know that he is usually right, if a bit optimistic about my abilities. There were four things that made the ascent possible that day. First, his voice. Second, two women who had given up and were coming back down; I *had* to be in better shape than they! Third, going back down looked worse than finishing the climb, and we were planning to come down a different way.
But the most important reason was this: I remembered my sermon from the day before, and the music from Rent that inspired it. The words ran through my head, over and over again. “There’s only now, there’s only here, give in to love, or live in fear, no other path, no other way, no day but today.”
Oh, brother. Don’t you hate it, preachers, when you find you were preaching to yourself?!?!!
“What is it you’re afraid of, Songbird?” he asked me more than once.
As I crouched against a rock, seeking to compose myself for the next upward climb, I answered, “I’m afraid that everything will slip away.”
If that is not my core existential angst, I don’t know what is.
There was an Easter Monday I spent in the hospital, being treated for a severe postpartum depression. I checked in on the evening of Holy Saturday and spent Easter Sunday sitting at a table weeping quietly. On Monday the work began in earnest. It was there I began to understand my deepest fear, to lose everything but still be alive.
“You’re not afraid of death?” he asked me on the mountainside.
No. I’m afraid that everything will slip away.
As hard as it was to make that hike, in which the 1.2 miles uphill took as long as the 3 miles winding down and back, it’s even harder to face other fears. All my life I’ve used food as a means of numbing any feelings that I’m not “supposed” to have. On the occasions I’ve tried to change the way I eat, the tornadic strength of my un-anaesthetized feelings frightened me as much as the trail to White Horse Ledge did this Easter Monday.
But, I’m 44, almost 45. I want more than I ever have before to be active, and I don’t want to carry what amounts to a backpack on the front of my body. Yesterday I faced some other fears and began practicing better habits. Let’s just say I wasn’t at my most calm or patient after counting out 100 calories worth of Mini-Wheats. Let’s just say coffee with skim milk is not a pretty sight. Let’s just say yesterday was not a great day.
But, again but, I got up this morning, and I’m still alive. I counted out the Mini-Wheats and it *almost* amused me. I broke some of them in half in the bowl and made more bites. (Is that some good behavior modification?)
No other path
No other way
I’m still afraid. On the hike, I leaned against a tree that grew at an angle toward the sky. It was solidly attached, but in my mind I could see it and me tumbling down, falling without ending, an image of the capacity I seem to think I have for ruining everything for myself. The only way out of that feeling, out of that fear, is up and over. The path down the other side won’t necessarily be easy, but at least it won’t be straight uphill.