I have done a few hikes in my time. My favorite ones have been with my family and begin at the base of a hill or mountain and ascend to a lake, a magnificent view, or just the top of the hill. About seven miles one way is about my limit, and with children under ten that was usually fun until we got to the top and realized we had arrived, but we were only halfway finished.
Anyone who has walked on a damp path knows that going up is easier than going down. If anyone ever got hurt, cold, hot, tired, cried, or complained it was on the way down. That last mile or two back to the trailhead can seem brutal and endless. What makes it worse is seeing people still in a good mood going the other way — “Yeah, just wait.”
Life has hills and mountains as well. The difference is that the world usually looks different because things change. One image would be that we keep moving forward — we go up a mountain and down on the other side. If the mountain is high enough the weather is likely to be different on the other side and sometimes it is an entirely different climate. The place we were before is different than the place in which we have arrived.
It is the nature of life that when we face difficulties and life transitions it is the other side that is surprisingly difficult. We get through the storm just fine and then notice the damage. We get through the funeral and then realize that the loss has changed us forever — the grief doesn’t leave, it is absorbed into our being. We walk through the door we fear and realize that we are not destroyed and feel relieved and encouraged. Then we understand there is a new reality to learn.
During the past year we have all been climbing a mountain that no one wanted to climb. We didn’t even know it was there and when we first saw it, we thought it was a little hill. Turned out to be a mountain range full of twists and turns and lots of false peaks. We hived off into our groups and have taken different paths across the summit, sometimes shouting at the other groups that they were doing it wrong. But getting over the top is the easy part.
Getting down is going to be harder. We are not quite sure what the world will be like on the other side. We will all be changed in one way or another. We will have relationships to mend, grief to assimilate. Our juniors and seniors in high school and university will have a lifetime to figure out what just happened. There are regrets concerning funerals, weddings, and other life events that either didn’t happen as planned or didn’t happen at all.
There will be temptations to diminish how others feel or tell them how they should cope. Too many will say either, “Just get over it,” or worse, “It hasn’t affected me at all.” As we are going down the mountain there will be anxiety, hope, and anticipation mixing in a cauldron of other emotions. Just as it was with the mountain we thought was a hill, it will not be what we anticipate that will cause us the most trouble. It will be those things we cannot see yet and may not until they hit us from the blind side.
It is a time when we must be even more patient with each other than we have been already. It is a time for kindness, mercy, and empathy. It is a time to take responsibility for one’s words and actions and extend grace to others.
I have not as yet heard of any clear exit strategy from our current situation. Some of us will be ready to go places and do things again. Many of us will need a long nap. It will take years to readjust — recovery is not the right word.
After considering it for a while, I think that any mountain we climb changes us. Yes, even those trails on the hills with my kids. Those short journeys do things to us and for us. At the destination we see things we may never see again, or we see things from an entirely different perspective if the sky is clear and the viewing is good.
I am looking forward to climbing down just because this has not been a fun journey. We have all taken it, whether we thought it necessary or not. We have certainly not taken the best pathway, although we will never truly know the truth of that. I do think we are over the summit. Not all of us made it — remember that. We all need to heal and help each other heal — remember that, too.