Finding Our Resolve

Dear Sophia—

As I am going through a bit of a rough patch myself currently, your latest post was a good read for me. It lifted my spirits, and reminded me of what I’ve been telling my son: failing is OK, but you need to try. And trying—really trying—means giving it everything you have. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I sometimes need to remind myself of that, so it’s good I’ve got kids. 🙂 Just like you. 🙂 What we’re telling our kids, we’re telling ourselves, right? 🙂

Let me tell you two real out-of-my-life stories—if only because our blog was pretty theoretical so far, right? 🙂

When I took my son up the mountain—his first climb on Mont Blanc, almost two years ago now—he was 17 years old. His power-to-weight ratio is, of course, much better than mine. And so this old man had trouble following his pace. We had started our push to the summit a few hours past midnight, as one should. But then—at the crack of dawn, when we had crossed the Dôme du Goûter—we arrived at the final ridge to the summit. Not very difficult technically—but… Well… Psychologically daunting for anyone who hasn’t climbed before. You see the summit, and that very narrow ridge line that leads to it—two or three feet wide only. And then you see the drop on both sides. Is it over 3,000 feet? It doesn’t matter. It’s just a sheer drop. Two or three feet may seem like a lot—like a sidewalk. But there is no road next to the sidewalk here. If you fall, you’re gone. That’s when you realize that climbing is not like a high-altitude trek. It’s… Well… It’s bad. We shouldn’t do it—too much risk—but then that’s why we do it, right? :-/

He had difficulty keeping his balance because of the terrible wind gusts at that altitude. He had the power, but he didn’t have my belly. 🙂 So he hesitated as the snow ridge narrowed down. And he stopped when it got really narrow. He cried he couldn’t do this, and that we should turn back. So we turned back, to a spot where there was plenty of space, but where we could still feel those maddening wind gusts. I made him push his ice axe deep into the snow, and told him to kneel, stabilize and breathe. So we sat there in the snow—just close to each other, not saying anything. After a minute or so, I said something like: “We can go back. But you’re going to be back. There is the summit. A few hours more. You want to reach it. No pressure. If you wanna go back, we go back. You can come back.”

We just looked at each other, and I could see him calming down as he was breathing somewhat more normally—as we had stopped the physical exertion. And then he got up—and we got started on the ridge again. We went up slowly. Step by step. I made sure that, whenever he moved his ice axe, mine was anchored deep into the snow—and I only moved mine when his was anchored. I stayed behind him, so I could see him, and I only gave him a few feet of rope, so I could stabilize him immediately if he’d loose balance. We had to get across a deep crevasse while going up. At that point, I told him to get behind me, and he climbed across it right behind me. With my ice axe as the anchor for both of us. I thought he’d freak out again, but he didn’t. We reached the summit many hours later—but well before noon, so the snow was good throughout the climb. I hadn’t told him, but I had set my cutoff time at noon. I’ve been in bad snow. I didn’t want to be in bad snow with my son. So we got back down safely. [It is very telling that most people who die in the mountains make the summit but can’t make it down. Think about it, Sophia. What does it mean?]

Was this meaningful? I think it is. Just two weeks ago—as he was struggling with the stress of his first university exams—he wrote me to thank me for making him do something that he could be really proud of. So that mountain—his first and only one, so far—has given him the confidence he needs to climb a much more difficult one: getting through university. I also repeated what I had told him a couple of times already: failure is an option. You don’t need parents when winning: you need your parents to support you when you fail.

The other story is about my one of my brothers. He struggled with alcohol addiction. I thought he’d never be able to abstain, but he did. I asked him how he finally got himself to quitting. He said: “I failed many times, but every day is a day. And you keep trying, and then one day becomes a week, and a week becomes a month, and then longer. I failed many times. I was angry at myself, for not keeping a promise—worse, not keeping a promise to myself. But I was also able to forgive myself, and start a new day, with new resolve.”

Coping with addiction is like climbing a mountain: if you can’t make the summit the first time, you just have to keep going back at it. I admire my brother for his strength and will power. Healthy people who think they are strong and have conquered it all, should probably think again: did you ever cope with disease, or with addiction? If you’re think you’re strong, think again.

So… Well… Sophia—Please be kind to yourself. Think about the promises you want to make to yourself before you make them because… Not keeping a promise to yourself may feel worse than not keeping a promise to a friend—especially when you’re coping with addiction, like my brother, or, in your case, when your health condition is such that you should or should not be doing certain things. Hence, think about your promises before you make them—so you have a better chance of keeping them. But, please, also forgive yourself when you’d happen to make a mistake.

Let me conclude with a song and a poem. The song is one you surely know: Shakira’s song for the 2010 World Cup. It’s really one of my favorites for almost any situation. Just sing along with it. You know the first verses, right?

You’re a good soldier
Choosing your battles
Pick yourself up
And dust yourself off
Get back in the saddle

Music is powerful. Let it engulf you.

The poem is even more powerful, I think. It was written by another blogger, who calls herself Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It usually makes me cry—a healthy release of tears (and pain).

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

[…]

I have shared this before— with close friends, and with my life partner… But… Well… I still keep reading it as an invitation to myself. I like the last line in particular: I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

When you’re alone, your only company is yourself, right? Despite all of my adventures and forays in exciting places, I sometimes think I still have trouble liking myself. Mountains have a well-defined summit, but the road of life does not have a clear end. That’s why it takes courage to keep following it.

Yours—Albert

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s