by Paul Fair
Eternity seemed to stare at me from every side. Downward, rocks ready to send my soul to where my body cannot go. Upward, the distance infinite to my finite muscles. To either side, limitless possibilities.
I was mostly naked by then. I had seen the top, and I wanted it, so I had started to climb. And as I began to climb, I quickly learned an invaluable lesson — lovely young ladies in tights at my local rock climbing gym aren’t simply being considerate to adolescent boys; they are garnering flexible clothing so they don’t end up being overly kind to those adolescent boys by having to take off their inflexible attire…like I did.
After failing to stretch spread eagle between two semi-connected towers, I climbed down, and took my jeans off. My shoes were already forgotten; they were no help gripping the sharp but loose edges. As I began again, I moved past the wedged face who had previously laughed at my tight jeans — I reached out, far out, and landed a foot on the rock wall next to me then I climbed a few feet past. “Is this enough to Snapchat me and make it look dangerous?”
Now if you had attempted to have a male anatomy lesson-free leisurely hike that afternoon, taking care to move along the trail you are supposed to take, which cleverly goes around this small cliff, you may have observed a few things: First, a pile of clothes. Second, a charming six-packed 20-something male with lean muscles rippling from his toned body. Thirdly, and although not seemingly as exciting but possibly more importantly, you may have noticed the precarious position in which that six-packed male found himself, who had already passed the Rubicon in which one can let go and fall a reasonable distance to safety.
Don’t worry — I’m not writing this from a hospital bed. And I’m glad, and not just because I don’t enjoy testing how good my Disney is. But more importantly, I’m happy I made it because those rocks taught me something.
While I felt pinned spread out between rocks– stuck too high to let go, too far from the top, with bleak, distracting options to either side, with muscles about to give–I began to panic. My muscles were loosening and tightening at the same time — my breath was alternating between rushing in and escaping out. But then a thought occurred.
Keep going up.
I stopped considering falling. I forgot about all the other devastatingly distracting holds and routes to my right and left. I had one goal now. So I kept going up. I got past that part which had screamed “impossible.”
I’m glad I made it, because I learned something — Those cruel rocks gave me something in exchange for a little blood and sweat — We don’t overcome by stopping. We don’t win by quitting. We aren’t successful by failing. And we only reach the top by doing exactly one thing: Keep going up.
And we can’t afford distraction, and, further, the world can’t afford us to be distracted. Think about it, if I had tried to go sideways, searching for a falsely labeled “escape,” I truly may not have finished. (And then think of all those future empty Calvin and Klein ads?) I could have fallen. We only have so much strength to overcome impossible odds, a limited amount of time with eternity awaiting us, and a finite being with infinite purpose. We can make it to the top, we can start an orphanage, and we can be Olympians. But we can’t climb sideways, and arrive at the top. We can’t waste our life, and build an orphanage. We can’t eat fast food cross the finish line. The mountain requires sacrifice.
The world is waiting for us. The world doesn’t need anyone else telling them to take the easy path. The world needs encouragement — they need someone with passion, who’s willing to make it to the top, who will break against the common lie that by somehow letting go of the rocks, we are falling to safety. The world needs the truth — that letting go of our dreams, of the pain, of the hard stuff, is actually FAR more dangerous than carrying on.
Back on that rock, if I had an audience, they may have had two prayers instantly occur: One –“Lord, please let me know if Paul wears boxers or briefs.” And two — “Don’t let him fall.” You would have had all your prayers answered, because, well, JC’s cool like that, apparently. But also, because we lose things along the way, if we really want to make it. You must be willing to risk embarrassment. People may see the real you, and no matter how great you looked in those yoga pants on the treadmill, when you are spread eagle between two rocks with no shoes, and blood and breath screaming from your body, not everyone will think you’re an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Not everyone at the bottom is gonna appreciate the route you take. But you know what? Those voices at the bottom aren’t the voices I would listen to. You will never reach your goal if you do. And your goal may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. I’d listen to the voice inside, who created the mountain, telling you to keep going up. Because you won’t remember what part of your body is bleeding. But you will remember the view. That’s yours to keep.
Those who hiked around the easy way probably didn’t understand the pile of clothes that sat suspiciously on the ground. And sure, those people, who took the easy way, the nice, inviting, pre-groomed, packaged, sure-fire trail may have seen the same view as I did — they may have gazed from Pulpit Rock as the cliff opened to a valley which races across Olympic City at the foot of the Rockies, stretching out as far North and South as humanity can witness.
Sure, they saw that. But they didn’t behold it. It probably hasn’t stuck in their memory like it did in mine. Taking the easy way always meets the end lacking the “aha!” moment, steals the spice, the flavor, the kick, the climax; you can’t take the easy way and taste the moment that steals your next breath, the moment that confirms to you that you’ve accomplished something beautiful, and it was good. Don’t skip that. Keep going up.