My Own (Private) Pilgrimage

Another pilgrimage to the mountain early this morning. Quieter than it had been last week, except for the diehards. As if out of the woodwork, the usual suspects appeared, decked out in uniform: Wolf, both Franks, Jeff, Leon, Simon, Phil et al. No sign of Sylvia or Debbie, but a handful of other women joined the ranks. Those I hadn’t seen last week greeted me warmly, with open arms, concern about my recovery, and kisses on both cheeks. A lap around the lake, followed by announcements and, with a wave and a wink in my direction, the pack was off, down the gravel path, deep into the woods.

I watched with awe and inspiration until they disappeared from sight, sensing that it was just a matter of time before I would again re-join the pack. Then I raised my hiking poles and headed off for one more lap around. Coming around the far end of the lake, I noticed a short, white-haired man staring at me. He spoke as I neared, and I slowed to a stop. With a raspy voice, made more difficult to understand because of his French accent, he asked why I was walking with poles; for support or for exercise? A short conversation ensued, with questions about my accident, my brief synopsis, a grimace appearing on his face, followed by a far-away look in his eyes that – upon seeing the beer can in his hand – made me wonder if he was in deep thought or just plain drunk.

His apparent serenity belied a troubled mind: In a composed and compassionate manner, he proceeded to reveal to me how he was unemployed and looking for work, and although he thought that his situation was challenging, he realized upon meeting me and seeing others in dire straits, that perhaps his predicament was not the end of the world. He was grateful for what he had and thanked me for reminding him of it.

With a smile and wishes of good health, we parted, and I veered up the hill with the poles easing me into a steady gait. When I reached the main path, where other runners were going through their paces, I was tempted to turn left and stay the course. Instead, my eyes caught sight of another narrower path, slightly hidden, heading higher up the mountain – a path I’d only ever taken before when heading downhill on cross-country skis.

What good was this whole exercise if I wasn’t going to challenge myself physically? If I wasn’t going to see how far I could push the limits of my pain. Maybe even break through.

So I climbed in the woods, I descended and climbed again. My heart beat faster, I started to sweat, and my legs – wobbling a bit at first – reminded me about the wisdom of natural healing: they held the memory of what my body is capable of doing and they persevered. I ascended until I could no longer, and only then I turned back, satisfied with my achievement for today.

I figure if Jordan Romero (one of my new heros) can – despite all the fears and criticisms voiced by naysayers the world over – reach the summit of Everest at thirteen years old, then surely I can scale a peak that is within my own (current) reach. It’s not only therapy for the legs and body… but for my soul.

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