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I didn’t make it to the top

I was on my way.

It was a new trail. A new summit to climb.

I thought about it. That was my plan when I filled my backpack that morning with trail map, water and snacks.

An hour into the hike I’d traversed the nurturing protection of the redwood forest, where brooks trickled and insects whirled. I was already out on the sunbaked trail hard as cement. Climbing in the midday sun.

At once I became aware of myself. Trudging. Head down, bent forward against the incline. Sweat pouring down my brow and neck. Heart pounding.

I paused to catch my breath. I looked up at the road before me. Rising up and up. Ahead, beyond the bend, another steep climb. And then another.

I gathered myself, tightening the shoulder straps on my pack. I took a step.

I looked up again. Measuring the distance, the incline. I calculated the time it would take to reach the summit.

I looked within, searching for a reason to continue on. I found only flatness there. And a tug at the back of my heart.

And I asked the question I hadn’t yet dared to ask. Why? Why am I pushing?

Then came the memories…

… Some 20 years before, telling my grandmother I had run the Marine Corps Marathon, and her reply: “Did you win?”

… On Christmas break from my Freshman year in college. Dieting to lose the first semester weight. Coming down to the kitchen where my mom and grandmother were drinking tea. Sharing my victory, “I’m back in my size 6 jeans!” And my grandmother, “Well, I’m a size 4.”

… Another kitchen conversation with my mother and grandmother. And another competition. This time around who was the youngest when they graduated high school. Who won? I don’t remember. I just remember feeling not good enough, never able to win.

I took a few more steps forward, leaning against the hill.

I paused again. Asking again, Why am I pushing? What’s the point here? Will this pushing get me to some place I actually want to be? If I make it to the top, what will that give me? What am I trying to get here?

And then a shift. Asking the questions I hadn’t before been willing to ask was the key to unlocking a different set of questions grounded in a different reality.

What if this was enough? What if I stopped right here? What if I found a spot to sit and be and experience the landscape? Could that be enough?

I looked up at the summit again. I just wanted to make sure. Because I was in new territory here. I wasn’t quite sure what to trust. Did I really want to go there?

All I found within was a flatness.

But was there more to this flatness? I explored the contours of the flatness, that blank feeling. The more I explored, the more I became aware that it wasn’t a barren, blank landscape, but instead it was a lid, like a dense steel plate covering up something hidden beneath.

I pulled the lid away to discover a dark, abandoned well below. And all the way down, at the bottom of the well, was a very young part of me looking up with tears in her eyes.

“Please don’t make me,” she whispered.

Just then, the tug in the back of my heart exploded into a million pieces and left in its wake a gushing river of compassion that flushed my heart.

“You are enough, there’s nothing you have to do,” I told my inner child.

We found a grassy spot on the side of the trail. We sat there together in silence for a while, gazing out over the forests blanketing the rolling hills below.

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