Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Confessions of a Glutton

"Do you have any extra room in your pack?," my roommate asked in a breathless voice punctuated with a bit of urgency - it was late after all on the night before my departure. "Do you have just a little bit of room?"

Well, sure.  I'm a pretty efficient packer. So, "yes", I replied as I skimmed my packing list for last minute essentials that I may have forgotten at this late stage of prep.

"I have a blessing for you..." My sweet friend had carried a wish back with her from Nepal, a trip she took last fall before I was lucky enough to meet her. My blessing, carried so far, is so simple and beautiful; a few pieces of rice wrapped in paper and carefully closed with bright colorful thread. To be honest, I dont know if there is meaning to the colors of thread or the way its wrapped. I dont know if the paper holds special significance. I'm not even sure, really if there is actually rice in there since I cant quite feel it through all the paper.

I could, however, read the words of the prayer written by Lama Geshe from Pangpoche:

"Give up all intention to harm others from your heart
And do your best to benefit them all
If each and everyone feels the universal responsibility to do so, 
We will all enjoy the feast of peace."

Hmm. I also knew the love that carried the blessing from my friend's hands to mine, and that carefully watched my blessing be placed in a special spot in my pack. From one climber to another were passed the hopes for safe travel, for success, and most of all, for an amazing experience to mark a significant moment in life. Sara's small gesture was a nugget of strength that helped me climb to over 14,400' this past Friday. (little did she know, those 10 months ago in Nepal, that this little package would be so important to an then-unknown girl on a glacier, high in the sky - i love unexpected connections like this.)

Two days later, as I made my way with my team and our amazing guides, from Paradise to Muir, we passed a number of groups enjoying the bluebird day and the views the mountain had to share. One family made a big deal of moving to the side - "look, climbers!!" I almost felt like a celebrity *blush, blush* - a little pride glowing at my hope to summit. As we passed, the father asked, "how far will you go?" "To the top!" one of my teammates replied. "Well, then I'll toast your trip with a glass of wine tonight," the father replied. And just like that, another blessing was passed our way.

To many folks who see the mountain on a daily basis (or whenever it chooses to show itself), it is simply a backdrop, a local icon, something they will only look at but never set foot on. And on the flipside, Mt Rainier, to many climbers is not a colossus. But this volcano that I've lived in site of nearly all my life was a challenge unlike any other I'd previously taken. And one I'd only been offered 4 weeks prior - and I was intimidated. I like my life. I didnt want it cut short by some hungry crevasse or a resident, fire-breathing dragon, who perhaps goes by the name Wade Olsen.

Over the course of the 2 days prior to our summit, I was gifted other pieces of goodness to pack away and carry with me by unknowing givers; the camaraderie of my team, the most perfectly golden pancakes cooked up by our guides with hot cinnamon-y coffee to chase them down, duct tape stuck to sensitive spots on my feet, shared snickers bars (which, folks, let me tell ya, they mean a LOT at 10,000'), and conversations with other climbers at various stages of their own climbs. Little things that could be taken with a grain of salt (or rice) but all added up to little wishes of goodness for the climb that helped ease my nerves.

After we successfully summited on a most beautiful day, we encountered other day-trippers near Paradise who asked how far we went? did we succeed? and then responded to our replies with congratulations, cheers and in one case, applause even.

What generosity. And kindness. From everyone - strangers, old friends, new friends. Like the encouraging words of Sara's blessing, the days of the climb were a few brief moments where we feasted on peace. And they served as a reminder why it is I do this sort of thing. Why I choose to climb steep rock, travel trails through forest, and in this case, summit a tall volcano. It seems, outside the regular, rat-race day-to-day, the best in people shines through. And I just cant help it but I'm a glutton for the goodness I find in the people I'm lucky enough to meet along the way.

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