The point is not the summit. The finish line is not the goal. They are arbitrary markers, endpoints that prove not to be endpoints once crossed. They are simply waypoints, in no way emblematic of the richness we seek, and sometimes find.
It’s a funny thing, climbing. It always seems like an achievement-oriented pursuit. Why climb mountains? “Because it’s there,” as the famous George Mallory quote goes. Because struggles were meant to be overcome. Because challenges were meant to be stood on top of, to be conquered.
I would take a different view. Challenges are not meant to be overcome. They are meant to embraced, swallowed whole, savored. They are meant to steep, to be allowed time to wreak havoc on our bodies and our souls, to test us to our limits and toss us over the edge. Our only “goal” is to survive. The summit is just a detail. Success is not the measure of success.
|Photo by Joe Klementovich|
Yesterday I threw myself at one of my longterm projects, a beautiful line in the Cathedral Cave called Sanctuary. It’s a line I’ve worked on and off for years, at (or beyond) my current limit but striking enough to keep coming back to. I never got on it last season, but the season before I spent a half-dozen days working out the moves. The season before that I spent as many days just figuring out the crux. I go there on days when the mist hangs low, when the rest of Cathedral is dripping and spent, days other people cancel their climbing plans. If the cliff is a church then the Cave is the first pew. It is where the sermon can be heard loudest, where Cathedral’s beating heart echos among the boulders.
In truth, there is no goal. Sanctuary is simply my excuse. It is a project, sure, but not one I yearn to finish. It is a way to explain why I keep coming back, why I never tire of visiting the heart of the monster. On cloudy days (summer or winter) you can find me there, harnessed and smiling, rope flaked at the base. Do I want to send the route? Yes, but that thirst is born of my ego. My pride wants to wear the ascent like a banner, but my heart is elsewhere. It does not want to send Sanctuary; it forever wants to be sending Sanctuary. Halfway up, as the clock ticks and my forearms burn, I am free. I am lost and swimming amid the chaos, living a moment that cannot afford to last. That is where my heart is. It is wandering in the mist, drinking in its secrets, not standing atop it.
|Photo by Joe Klementovich|
The beauty of that gift came back to me yesterday, after three burns that never reached the chains, as I descended to my car. My feet swept through the leaves as I walked. My biceps ached, my fingertips were raw, but I smiled. I would need to come back. The project wasn’t finished. There was at least one more day of sermons in my future. Her heartbeat would grace my ears again. How lucky I am.
The goal is not to stand on top. The point, if there is one, is to struggle. It is to hold on, and to hold on, and to hold, though every sinew in your body screams to let go. It is to wrestle chaos, to let it overtake you and then smile when it has both hands around your neck. It is to open your eyes while drowning so you feel every drop rushing into your lungs. There is no finish line. The summit isn’t even close to halfway.