The Summit (a short story)
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.
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.
I 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.
This story is dedicated to my wife, best friend and sister in Christ,