Looking down from the other side

I’m at a weird place in my life today. A strange reprieve from the usual chaos, uncertainty, and loneliness. Today is a day I feel like I have reached the top of a summit and I am looking down the other side onto a green valley. My whole life I’ve always been looking at one side of this mountain, and now I’m seeing it from another viewpoint.

The weird thing about it is how alone I feel.

Not lonely. I’ve had this feeling a few other times in my life. One of those times I was hiking by myself. Ha! Hiking. That’s not what a lot of avid hikers would call it. It was mountain climbing. No trail. Straight up the side of a mountain because I had lost the trail and the only direction I could go to find my way around was to go straight up. I knew that reaching timberline would let me follow the ridge back to the trail I wanted instead of the one I had taken and lost.

Not really looking for a metaphor in this, but I guess it was there all along. That was back in 2015. On that hike my frame pack fell apart. My heart hadn’t been worked like that in years. I thought I was going to die. When I reached the summit, I looked down the other side. It was just me up there. No one to share that moment with. When I pass on one day, that memory will die with me. I run into that a lot. There’s something they tell us about having to have someone to bear witness.

When I walked London by myself in 2019, my first international trip–solo–I had a few moments when I was walking, my legs were screaming from the pain, my toes blistered and ripped apart again, that I wondered what I was doing. The experience would only mean anything to me.

Only.

That is just another word for solo. Alone. Solitude. It’s a word that is minimalized and deminishes the experience. We’re only human. Only child. If only… Nothing about my wanderings through London or the side of a mountain are minimal or unimportant. It took a while to learn that. Sometimes the obverse is you can visit an amazing place with amazing people and when the experience is over and those people are no longer in your life, you are left with those moments too. Those moments that the loss of those people have torn pieces away from. At least if you did it by yourself, you can make those recollections without the pain of loss attached. Because wherever you go, there you are.

So, back to this business about looking over the other side.

The more work I do on me, the more of these moments I seem to have. If you aren’t used to it, it can be disconcerting, scary, lonely. You might wonder what the point of living is if you aren’t living for someone else. We find ourselves living for our kids, our partners, our friends and family, our co-workers. There’s always something going on when you get sucked into that kind of world. Never a dull moment. It’s familiar.

Days of just looking out across that valley and it’s just the sound of the wind blowing across the tundra, the quork or a raven, the snap of a rock as it falls down the mountainside and rolls into an icy lake…it’s not for everyone. Especially if you have never seen it.

Lots of people are fine with standing on the uphill side of the mountain, struggling, putting one foot in front of the other and never reaching the summit. Maybe they have company in their struggle. They stop and rest a lot. They make excuses why they can’t keep climbing. They might even build a cozy cabin on the mountainside and live there forever. You aren’t lonely then, are you?

Not many people make it to the summit. If you have, you probably know how palpable the solitude is up there. And looking over onto the other side…that can be terrifying, because it means leaving everything behind you once knew.

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