The summer my late husband Bernie died, I figured that the best way to survive what I knew would be a long, hot, lonely summer at home was to get out of town for a while. My daughter, Alex, who was twenty-one at the time, agreed to accompany her nine-year-old brother, Benjamin, and me as we set out on our first “vacation” after Bernie’s death—an event which any widow can tell you is emotionally daunting. Providentially, we visited three beautiful mountain towns that summer: Jackson Hole, WY, Crested Butte, CO and Caesar’s Head, SC. And as God is wont to do, He used both the sweet company of my daughter and the stunning mountain landscapes not only to provide consolation, but to remind my still-fragile heart of some of life’s most precious secrets.
When we arrived in Jackson Hole, I told Alex that I wanted to take a hike. I had in mind a nice, leisurely walk beside a clear, running stream. She took me instead for trek straight up a mountain trail, a trudge that is more than a bit challenging for someone like me, given that I’m not athletic, am scared of heights and am unaccustomed to high altitudes.
Alex, who a year later would run a half-marathon up those very same mountains, insisted that we push our way up the peaks anyway. She knew from experience that the reward of climbing the mountain—the breathtaking, invigorating vistas—could only be seen from on high.
“Come on Mom, you can do it. Drink lots of water,” she said repeatedly as I panted for breath. Because as any experienced climber can tell you, the number one trick for making it up the mountain is drinking plenty of water.
As I stopped repeatedly to quench my thirst and catch my breath, I thought about how important water is to both our natural and spiritual lives—especially in times of drought. Living water, water that will never run dry, comes to us through a relationship Jesus, who is the fountain of life (John 4:14). He slakes our thirst continually as we give ourselves over to Him and drench ourselves in His love. That love sustains us in times of sorrow and suffering, especially if we have let it soak deep into our souls over time.
My mountain trek also reminded me of how indispensable food is for the journey. “Stop and eat a snack,” Alex insisted after an arduous period of climbing when I was feeling weak and disoriented, convinced that I couldn’t go on. I remember the long, painful days in the ICU, when the only thing that kept me going was the Holy Eucharist—the superabundant Bread of Life—mercifully delivered to the hospital by a Eucharistic minister. I do not believe I’d have survived the suffering we endured that year without the Eucharist. Just as I know that I would have been unable to continue climbing upward with Alex summer without natural sustenance.
With Alex by my side, I also learned that if you’re going to climb a mountain, don’t try to do it alone. If you get injured, lost or can’t go forward, you need someone there to help. In fact, you may even need someone who loves you to carry you to safety.
One day in Crested Butte, we hiked a mile up a mountain to see an exquisite waterfall at the top. Young Benjamin started out with a bang, running ahead of us for the first half-mile. Twenty minutes later, his little legs collapsed and he couldn’t go any further. Though he weighed sixty some-odd pounds at the time, he simply needed to be carried. Strong, loving Alex carried him on her back most of the way to the top, reminding me of how she had demonstrated the same strength for her dad and me as Bernie’s life came to a close. She bravely sat beside us, holding our hands. Her faithful presence was a tremendous gift as we scaled a painful, frightening summit, and she stood steady with us to the very end.
God and the mountains teach their lessons, and so do those whom we love. It’s not necessarily what they say out loud that communicates who and what they are, but their strong, abiding presence that tells us everything.
To Ponder: Does my life sometimes feel like an uphill climb? What in my faith life has been particularly helpful in helping me scale the summit?
Copyright 2015 Judy Klein
Images copyright 2015 Judy Klein