January 4, 2017.
My life has been intrinsically connected to Mount Kilimanjaro. I was born in Moshi, the landmark of Kilimanjaro, and every morning, as a child, I would jump out of bed, run to the window and see “my mountain”. It was a ritual I continued until I left Moshi for Canada. The mountain was my anchor and my certainty. When I visited Moshi two years ago, the mountain had “disappeared”. I could only see a faint impression of it; something to do with global warming. It was a difficult reality to face as an adult.
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet. About 30,000 people climb the mountain each year and about three-quarters of those reach the summit. This past week, my son Shayne, his girlfriend Fareen, the impressive Mohamud Zaver (Fareen’s dad), Shaila (Fareen’s sister) and Shaila’s friend, Aleeza, took the 6 day trek to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. For six days, we have been holding our breath, waiting expectantly to hear from this group of brave warriors. This morning Shayne called us to say that they all made the summit successfully and reached base safely. Over the next few days and weeks, I am sure we will hear about the adventures, the joys, the mishaps, the challenges, the exhaustion and the exhilaration that the group experienced. Right now, their immediate focus is a shower and many hours of sleep!
As I think about their experience, I am mesmerized by the metaphor of climbing a mountain. Of doing something that is so out of your comfort zone; something that gets your adrenalin moving and your heart pumping. Something that gets you out of your head and fully into your body; where there is equal risk of failure or success. Of taking that first step and creating the momentum to see the top of anything, rather than staying at the bottom of your life. Of figuring out your true capacity by doing the seemingly impossible. Of trusting that you will make it to the peak, that forward momentum will get you there and that all you need to do is to put your head down and move forward. Of knowing that it’s not all straight up – sometimes, you have to go down to go up – and you may miss a trail or path, and that’s okay. For making that final push, when you are tired and scared and don’t think you can do it anymore. Of doing something so expansive, so magnificent, that it changes you forever.
We are not meant to be ordinary. We are meant to be extraordinary. And in being extraordinary, if we can touch the lives of others and share experiences, be in the moment and enjoy the process along the way, and not judge ourselves by others, what gifts might that open up for us? I love this excerpted quote in Eric Walters book, Between Heaven and Earth. In this story, one of the characters, DJ, is given a quest to take his grandfather’s ashes to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a great metaphor for life:
“There is a saying – if you wish to travel fast, travel alone. If you wish to travel far, travel together. You are part of a group of climbers, supported by partners and led by a guide. Travel with them. That’s important for the climb and in the life. As you trek up the mountain, I want you to stop along the way, enjoy each step, each moment. Breathe in the air, savor the view, live in the moment. Move slowly, enjoy. Remember not to wish away the minute of the days between now and the goal you are seeking. When you look up, you’ll see climbers further along the journey. When you look back you’ll see those behind you. Don’t pity those below or envy those above. Life is a journey and not a destination; each must take it at his own pace.”
What is the one thing you will do in 2017 to be extraordinary? To break out of your comfort zone? To broaden your perspective? To embrace challenges? To test your boundaries? Each one of us is at a different pace. Is it learning a new language? Is it taking a sabbatical? Is it moving to Spain for 2 months and embracing a new culture? Is it simply getting out of bed earlier? Is it committing to working out 3 times a week? Is it loving more?
I’m sitting with this for now as I applaud Shayne, Fareen, Mohamud, Shaila and Aleeza for the journey they took together and how this is inspiring me to find my own mountain.