May 20 2013

The Summit (a short story)

helping-hand

 

The icy, fresh wind blows in my face, gliding over my eyes making them cry. I squint through the tears and take in the view before me.

Epic.

The rising sun spreads its blanket of warm light across the vast landscape like butter being slowly spread on morning toast. The view from the summit gives you a unique perspective. Everything else looks small. Accomplishable. You can see further and wider than ever before and the beauty of God in the face of nature is breathtaking.

My guide stands beside me. We huddle together keeping warm, enjoying the view. She squeezes my shoulder in a silent expression of pride in what I have accomplished. I squeeze her shoulder back in a silent expression of humble gratitude. I could not have reached the summit without her help. She knew how to read the map, she planned each leg of the climb, she told me where to put my feet when the ground threatened to give way and I fear plunging to the bottom of a cliff. She was my guide, my companion, my help mate.

I had not wanted to do this climb, really. I was happy living at the bottom of the mountain. I was happy living in its shadow just trying to ignore it. But then she came along.

“The view!” she’d tell me. “You’ve got to see the view up there! It’s spectacular!”

She’d tell me of how the wind blows in your face and you can see for miles. She would try to inspire me with descriptions of how wonderful it would be to not live in the mountain’s shadow and how the sun stretches it’s blinding yellow hand across the plains making the darkness run and hide. She would speak of the peace and the silence at the summit and the satisfying exhaustion you felt as you collapsed at the top.

All that didn’t sound pleasant at all. I knew that the beauty of the view of the summit came at the excruciating cost of the climb to get there. I hadn’t seen the sunrise for a decade and I knew why. I knew that the gigantic shadow that I was living in was caused by an equally gigantic mountain. She could try to lure me in with visions of the achievement I’d feel, but the only reason why I’d feel that sense of achievement is because it was going to be so hard. I had lived long enough at the bottom of the mountain to get used to its shadow and if it took something that hard to get out from under it, I could put it off for a little longer.

The problem was, the mountain wasn’t getting any smaller. Every year that went by, the mountain grew a few metres. Every year I avoided facing it, it because a little harder to face. The summit got a little further away. The shadow I lived in grew a little bigger.

The one reason that convinced me to make the climb in the end, was the road.

There was only one road and it led straight to the mountain. It travelled up it’s rocky cliffs, winding past dangerous outcrops and through terrifying caves, leading always up to the summit. Over the summit I had no idea where the road went, but I presumed it went down again and then continued eastward towards the horizon that I never saw.

Many years ago, I had stopped at the base of the mountain. It wasn’t really a mountain back then. It was more like a small hill. I wasn’t very good at travelling on the road at that age. I often lost my supplies and ran out of water. I was a pretty annoying travel companion and I often twisted my ankle or stubbed my toe, making everyone who walked along with me have to slow down and wait for me to catch up.

When I got to this hill, I just stopped. Not sure why. It was a long time ago. But I stopped and set up camp and didn’t move on.

tallest_mountains_291538I managed to distract myself for years as the hill became steeper and steeper, and one morning – I don’t know when – I couldn’t see the sunrise any more. I looked up at the incline before me and I shuddered. The hill had become a mountain. I got back into my tent and there I stayed… until she came along.

I knew that if I wanted to travel with her, the only road I could travel on was the one that headed right up the mountain. It was either that or stay in this tent forever. She didn’t want that. She wanted me to see the sunrise again. She wanted to travel  much further down the road, past this mountain and off into the horizon. She was patient and she was wise and she was a bloody good mountaineer. She was a gift to me. But if I wanted to have her as my travelling buddy, I knew I had to leave the tent and face the mountain.

 

It took nearly two years to climb to the summit, but together we did it. And now, as I stand next to her, squinting through my tears and marvelling at the view, the memory of the painful journey to this point is slowly slipping away. Fading like the shadows that retreat from the sun’s warm glow. Drowned out by the soft whistle of the wind and washed away by the tears and sweat that cover my face.

I could tell you of the caves that we had to crawl through, the mounds of earth we had to dig through and the confusing rock formations we had to navigate. I could tell you of the dark demons we had to face and the cold and lonely nights we had to endure. I could tell you of the exact path we took and what we met at each stage of the climb.

But none of it would help you.

If you have a mountain to climb, the road will be different. The mountain will be different. The obstacles will be different.

The sunrise might be the same though. And so that is what I will speak of. The clear, rich, beautiful sunrise that I long since learned to live without.

After what seems like hours, I begin to look at the path down the mountain. It seems easy and well lit by the morning glow. There are clear steps and a handrail and the road continues at the bottom.

I follow the road with my eyes across the plain and notice that a way down it, its path comes across a small hill. A little further, it hits another hill, and then another and another.

My heart sinks.

It seems, every few hundred kilometres or so the road hits a hill and from what I could see, this carried on until the horizon.

I point it out to my guide. “What’s with that?? It took me everything I had to tackle this mountain! I thought it was all over! I thought it would be a clear, level path from here on!”

“They’re not that big, you know.” she encourages me. “Just one small hill once a year. And as long as you don’t let them grow, that’s all they’ll ever be.”

She squeezes my shoulder again, realising that, though I had climbed to this great height, I still had a way to go to learn how to travel this road. I’m grateful for her patience. Grateful for her wisdom and her grace.

I turn away from the landscape and stare at her beautiful face. It glows with the morning sun as she smiles at me, her lip quivering from the icy wind that blows across her face, messing her red hair.

The view is breathtaking. God is on display everywhere I look.

We grab our backpacks and help each other put them on, taking a final swig of water before walking towards the staircase that leads down from the mountain’s summit.

I don’t look back. I don’t need to. The view all around is too beautiful.

couple-walking-pentland-hills-regional-park

This story is dedicated to my wife, best friend and sister in Christ,

Cat.

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August 26 2012

The Blind Men & The Truth of The Elephant

 

Seven blind men were on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant.

One day, the first blind man bumped into something. “I’ve found the elephant!” he yelled with excitement.

The group cheered and asked, “What is it like??”

The first blind man felt around and replied, “Hmm. It’s long and thick like a big snake!”

The second blind man reached out his hand and felt the elephant that was infront of him. “No” he said, “It’s sharp and pointy, like a spear!”

The third blind man bent down and grabbed the elephant. “You’re both wrong! An elephant is wide and round, like a pillar!”

The fourth blind man described what he was touching and said, “Well you’re close, but an elephant is actually wide and flat, like a huge fan.”

The fifth blind man said, “You guys are fools! An elephant is clearly large, rough and flat, like a brick wall.”

The sixth blind man said, “Heresy! I know for a fact that an elephant is long and thin, like a piece of rope. You should all be burned at the stake!”

The six blind men continued their heated arguing, each one convinced that what they were touching told them the truth of the elephant.

The seventh blind man simply shook his head. “Silly men!” he said with a sigh. “Don’t you realise that you are but holding one part of the elephant and that in truth, all of you are right!”

The six blind men stopped their arguing and asked, “What do you mean?”

The seventh blind man continued, “Well, you…” addressing the first blind man, “…are simply touching the elephant’s long trunk which feels like a big snake.”

He then addressed the other men, “You are touching its tusks which feel like a spear. You are touching its leg which feels like a pillar. You are touching its ear which feels like a huge fan. You are touching its side which feels like a brick wall. And you, my fiery friend, are holding its tail which feels like a piece of rope. You can not see or feel the whole elephant. You can only experience the part you feel. You must not judge or condemn others for knowing the elephant to be different from you. You are all right! Each one of you should share your knowledge of the elephant with each other and together you will come to true enlightenment. Only when all of your truths are combined will you fully discover the truth of the elephant.”

“You are clearly a man of deep thoughtfulness…”

“Why thank you!” the seventh blind man replied. He then paused, confused. The voice he had just heard did not sound like any of the other blind men. “Sorry, who said that?” he asked.

“I did.” the voice replied. “I understand you didn’t notice that I’ve been standing here the whole time. I can see you are all blind.”

“Yes, we are. So.. you have the gift of sight then?” the seventh blind man asked curiously.

“I do” the voice replied. “Would you like me to share what I see?”

“Oh, yes!” the seventh blind man said with a smile. “You see, we are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant, and we have finally found one! Please, tell me what you see!”

“Are you sure you want to know? By what you said to the others before, you seem to already possess great wisdom about the elephant.”

“But that’s exactly the point of what I was saying!” the seventh blind man said encouragingly. “All of our perspectives are valid and important. Please share the truth of what you see and then your truth can be added to our truths.”

“Fair enough.” the voice replied. “Although I’m not sure you’re going to like it. What I see is quite different to what you may think is before you. The first blind man bumped into one of the other men and grabbed on to his companion’s arm. His blind friend seemed used to this and so wasn’t aware that when he spoke of the elephant feeling long and thick, like a snake, he was actually talking of his arm.”

“His arm??” the seventh blind man exclaimed, “So the elephant isn’t there at all?”

“Oh the elephant is there. He was not far off in fact. But, being blind, he didn’t know where to reach and he just grabbed for whatever he could find. An arm is as good as an elephant to someone who can’t see any different. The next three blind men made a similar mistake. One man is touching the pointy end of a tree branch and it feels to him like a spear. Another man is reaching up and touching the tree’s broad, flat leaves which feel like a fan. And the third man is kneeling in front of the tree and hugging its wide pillar-like trunk. You were right that the elephant’s leg is very similar in shape. You were also right that these three men should stop their fighting and realise they are simply holding different parts of the same object. You just couldn’t see that their squabble is over the truth of the tree. Sadly, none of them are actually holding the elephant.”

The seventh blind man was stunned and confused. “And what of the others?” he asked.

“Well…” the voice continued, “There is another man who is, believe it or not, literally touching a brick wall. It feels exactly like a brick wall, but he so desperately wants it to be an elephant his imagination compliments his desires. He can not accept the truth that is right in front of him. I do so wish he could see. He might be disappointed at first, but walls are rather lovely to look at up close and eventually he could continue on his quest to find the elephant that is actually standing so close to him. As it is I fear, he may well be standing in front of a brick wall for years, thinking his quest is over.”

“How sad,” reflected the seventh blind man. “But what of the man holding the tail that felt like a rope? He was so confident! So quick to condemn the others! What is he really holding? A tail? A rope? A vine from a tree?”

“Nothing.” said the voice. “This blind man is holding absolutely nothing in his hands. He simply heard the other men claiming knowledge and felt like a fool when he reached out and couldn’t feel a thing. See, he wasn’t standing near the tree or the wall or the elephant. He was facing in completely the wrong direction. But his pride and his fear could not leave him empty handed, and so he claimed to hold the truth of the elephant, knowing no one else could prove otherwise.”

“Other than you, of course.”

“Other than me.” said the voice, sadly. “I see all too clearly his pride and his lies and his fear, and yet he will live his life and never see me.”

The seventh blind man and the voice went silent for a long while. Eventually, the man swallowed hard and asked, “Sir, please… Can you tell me who you are?”

“Haven’t you guessed already?” the voice replied with a smile. “I am the elephant.”

“The elephant??” the seventh blind man said, now more confused than ever. “But elephants can’t talk!”

“How do you know? You are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant. How do you even know that an elephant has a trunk like a snake or ears like a fan or a tail like a rope? You cannot see. You are blind to the truth of the elephant and you are also blind to the truth of yourself. You claim wisdom and insight that all truths are right and everyone is just holding different parts of the elephant, but you do not know. You are as blind as everyone else. But maybe… you don’t have to be.”

“What do you mean?” the seventh blind man said, a little worried.

“Well, I am a talking elephant. I quite possibly possess other magical qualities that you are unaware of.”

“You mean…” the blind man stammered. “Can you heal my eyes?”

“Do you want me to?” the elephant asked curiously. “Do you realise what that would mean? If I gave you your sight, you would see things as they really are. You would see where I am and what I look like. You would know the truth and the truth would set you free. But there is a downside.”

“How could there be a downside to knowing the truth?” the blind man asked.

“Well, when you see the truth, you also see the lies. You would see your companions and be able to point them away from their false “elephants”, but they will still be blind. They will not believe you.”

“Of course they won’t, but they’ll believe you!”

“They will call you arrogant and narrow-minded for claiming to know the truth.They will rather you continued to teach what you taught before. That each of their truths are true. That message is one of peace and tolerance. The real truth divides and causes conflict. Why don’t you simply stay blind and continue n the path you were on when I found you?”

“But how could I? Oh, please let me see you! My quest was for the truth of the elephant… no matter what that turned out to be.”

And with that, something like scales fell from the man’s eyes and the brilliance of light pierced his vision. As his sight slowly came into focus, there before him was the scene of his six blind friends, exactly as the elephant had described them. And next to the tree, there was the elephant. Grand and magical and bright green. With a huge trunk and two glorious wings and smiling eyes that twinkled in the sunlight.

 

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