Just because the path is not entirely visible does not mean a journey cannot launch. Our greatest successes reveal themselves in moments when we start in a shroud and summit despite the conditions. If we strike boldly for an invisible peak we move intentionally.
I am reminded of a scene from the West Wing where Leo McGarry tells Josh Lyman a story of hope.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.”A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.”Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on”Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
What journey is worth commencing when the summit is not visible and success remains elusive?
Our best stories come when we are less than perfect but our purpose shines through despite our flaws. Our best memories are the ones where we challenged ourselves to go beyond our perceived limits. So often we reach the greatest heights when we steady our focus on the next step and not just on the summit that looms too far above to comprehend.
A couple years ago I camped at a popular lake in the Idaho wilderness. The area is very popular with backpackers and selection of camping sites is a fierce competition. Except I arrived in the first week of October and the only other car at the trailhead belonged to a couple that had walked a mile to the end of the first lake. My destination was six miles further up the trail. I made great time hiking, set-up camp, and even scampered another mile to a pass above the alpine amphitheater before returning to my tent as darkness descended.
In the tent and settled for a cold evening with a couple inches of snow ready to shuffle the landscape’s palate by dawn, I absorbed the isolation of my geographic coordinates. For a few minutes the scenarios of possible (and unlikely) events played on the main screen of my mind. I prepared for a Man vs Nature shocking sequence to unfold. I listened for the approaching danger, uncertain of its form. After a few shallow breaths, I managed to regain focus. I had dreamed of solitude such as this the night before. I lived in the intermountain west because I believed wilderness was the incubator to many of our best ideas. Revitalized with my sense of purpose, I zipped open the door to my lightweight shelter and took in the evening sky with its gleaming stars. I revelled in the crack of twigs not far from the tent, found humor in the mysterious thuds from far off ridges, and listened intently to the high symphony of the pine trees singing the tune of approaching weather. I embraced the fear, the beauty, the silence, the unknown, the remoteness. It was the imperfection of the moment that made it perfect. And only by laying in the middle of this vast glacier carved bowl of rocks could I come to appreciate the power of being somewhere else on the mountain other than the safety of the trailhead or in celebration on the summit.
Where on the mountain have your best stories found their genisus? I would guess many start far before we reach the top of any peak.