It’s not often we get to experience that feeling of ‘finishing’. The sense that the chapter is closing, making way for the next one to open. The exhilaration of standing at the Summit – a mountain climbed beneath you, a challenge finally overcome, accomplishment mixed with relief as the last bead of sweat inches its way down the side of your cheek… a new perspective now yours to tuck away as a completed item… an experience that ‘was’.
I was lucky recently. I got this feeling twice in one day, about a metaphysical mountain and a very real, very high, physical one called Everest. Not the point of Everest, just the base, but let’s just all focus on that word ‘Everest’ for a second and think that I’m awesome.
Now sitting at Newark International Airport with 15 minutes until boarding time, relaxed on a long overdue glass of Sauvignon, I’m about to board a flight home to Australia for the first time in 18 months.
A part of me looks back and asks, ‘What exactly did I do with myself the past year and a half…?’ (*cue large sip of wine*)
The other part of me remembers two moments.
The first was at the end of January this year; the door clicked behind my flatmate leaving for the day to go to a cafe and write his book. In an effort to be equally as productive I threw myself on the couch, burst into tears and didn’t let up for the next few hours. Lots of reasons why – most to do with the fact that I was coming down from 5 months of travel but a lot of it also to do with the fact that I finally had to face my own decisions about what was important in the world and what to do with my own consciousness instead of drowning it in dancing and jaegar-bombs.
I’d had a lot of experiences and read a lot of things but the reality was I wasn’t settled in anything. Was religion bad? Did I deceive everybody? Did everybody deceive me? Did I have a right to be angry? Should I write about it? Should I just forget and move on? Was there even such a thing as Should? What was I supposed to do now with the fact that I woke up every morning? Was it even important? Was I even important?
Big questions. I cried them out and woke up the next morning. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
The second moment was a few weeks ago when this picture was taken. I was sitting just outside the village of Gorek Shep, 5000 metres up, a couple hours walk from Mount Everest Base Camp, surrounded by the highest mountain range on the planet, writing. In one of those ‘woaaaaah’ moments, I realised there was no sickening feeling of dizziness when I thought about god and existentialism and belief and religion and where we come from and why we’re here and where we go when we die. I was standing at the Summit of the mountain I’d been climbing the past 10 months, suddenly seeing every step in perspective.
The thing is, when you’re climbing a mountain all you can see is the dirt and the rocks and the never -fucking – ending hill ahead of you. Then your climbing partner bounds past you doing cartwheels and exclaiming how FUN it is all is and the energy to get to the next point only comes from the distant possibility she may accidentally cartwheel off the edge of this one. A Summit just looks like hard work and stuffing things up when you’re in it.
Here’s what the climb up to the view looked like:
* Anger at the feeling that the first 25 years of my life were a lie and a complete waste
* Envisioning my future as nothing but trying a lot and failing a lot and giving myself excuses as to why I didn’t live up to my own expectations
* Thinking a lot about death and about the fact that I will die one day and not exist anymore
* Forcing myself to consider other people’s opinions as mildly valid.
* Having people disagree with my opinion in a public forum. Disagreeing with myself a few months later. Feeling embarrassed about what I said.
* Reading stuff and feeling like everyone was so much more awesome than me.
There was some very cool partying and reading and creative exploration and resting in amongst all that too of course. But you know, it’s a bit shit sometimes, plodding away at these things that bug us and niggle at our minds. The Summit though… the Summit makes it all worth it. Here’s some stuff I sorted for myself this year of bouncing around Europe and a little apartment in Spain:
– An answer to why we’re here. (“No why. Just is.” -John Cage)
– My own definition of the purpose of life.
– Where I draw lines between right and wrong.
– The desire to learn and enjoy rather than succeed; the loss of the feeling of Striving.
– Courage to say and do what I think usually despite people’s opinions and even if its weird
– The definition of Love (trick answer! there isn’t one. We Love a hundred different ways and it means whatever you want it to mean.)
– Comfort with the Gap of ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know where we originated. I don’t know if there’s a god or a higher power. I don’t know if there’s any real meat in my sausages. ‘I don’t know’ is an okay place to be. Except maybe with the sausages.
These aren’t the things that can go on resumes but they’re no mean feats.
Those of you who have done the same will know the courage it takes to look at reality and accept it for what it is rather than what you wish it could be. And then to find somewhere the spark of hope again that will let you dream beyond what seems possible right now to forge a sense of meaning and adventure and a drive for the future.
So just keep walking step by wonky step. Keep reading, writing, talking, travelling, questioning, thinking, sleeping, crying, laughing and don’t for goodness sake forget about the dancing and drinking. One day you’ll be sitting there and realise… hey, I’m at the Summit. Then you’ll turn around and find another mountain to whinge about climbing.
On that note… here, on my last sip of this quite incredibly good Sauvingnon, on the 12th December of this quite incredibly good year 2013, here’s a ‘Salud’, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Proust’ to the physical and metaphysical kind of Summits we have climbed and will climb in the years to come; both yours and mine. *chink*