The Best Day
What was the best day of your life that had nothing to do with another person or a deity?
So, no holding your child for the first time, no walking down the aisle, no ‘how I met your mother’, no parting of the Red Sea or loaves to fishes miracles.
What day was the best for you — and only you?
I’ve had some incredible days, but they usually include other people — and there’s nothing wrong with, say, drinking piña coladas in the Canary Islands with your daughter or going on safari in Sri Lanka with your kids. I think we are naturally inclined to move in packs. There is safety and security in that.
But sometimes, journeys have to be taken alone. Other voices can work like static when the universe is sending signals.
I don’t know why a trek through the Himalayas is a spiritual journey, as much as it is a physical one. Maybe because the spiritual realm is so present: prayer wheels on village borders, prayer flags strung from unfathomable peaks and Om Mani Padme Hum carved into the sides of boulders.
Maybe it’s because the mountains are so damn huge, you realize how small your life is. Or maybe strenuous hiking each day for two weeks gives you ample time for introspection.
Whatever the case, trekking in Nepal is therapy. The physical hardships in my body restructure my thoughts and reinforce the idea that I can live the life I want, as long as I keep moving forward.
I’ve been through incredible challenges. I’m not talking about the ten marathons — those were cakewalks compared to the mental endurance I’ve had to develop. I’ve been to the breaking point many times. Yet, I keep plodding along.
The hike up Kala Patthar was one of the best days of my life.
And it was hard as hell.
We climbed over 2,000 feet in two hours. At 5550 metres (18,208 feet), I felt I was running in cement shoes: my breathing was at a sprint pace, but my feet barely moved. The trail was fairly easy at first, composed of packed earth, moss and dust. In the pre-dawn, we could see the lights of headlamps winding their way up the mountain.
Soon, the guide and I were climbing across the rocky path, trying to pick the flattest on which to place our weight. The rocks were all sizes, from softballs to SmartCars, and the trail seemed to zigzag ever upward.
Trying not to trip on my own feet, I thought of the people summiting Everest and wondered how they could possibly succeed, when each step was so much damn work.
The hike was suspended in time. Each step seemed to take hours. Only the rising sun told me time continued unimpeded.
After a hundred years, we made it.
We sat on some fairly flat boulders and watched the sun rise over Mount Everest. The low band of clouds had vanished, and Everest seemed near enough to touch.
I was happy, celebratory. I played music (Imagine Dragons, Top of the World) and danced sitting down.
I was overwhelmed and wanted to cry. I thought of Mike — of his life and death; of his darkness and his goodness. I thought of my own demons and all I’ve accomplished. I thought of my kids and how damn proud I am that they are truly decent people.
I have literally seen the lowest place on earth (the Dead Sea in Israel), and at that moment, I was seeing the highest.
I could not help but think what a fitting metaphor for my life it was.
I have witnessed the darkest depths of the human mind. And now, I have seen the dramatic heights to which the human spirit can climb.
I do not need to wait for a god to come down and save me or a Prince Charming to whisk me away to his castle. I have the capability to summit my own Everest, if I just keep taking one beautiful, painful step at a time.
The thing is, when you stop to breathe the thin air, you can look down at the path you’ve climbed and think “Shit! I did that!”; but you can also look out and let yourself be astounded by the possibilities all around you.
Even the highest peak on earth could not be seen from the valley below.
I had to work hard to get there.
Kala Patthar is my bright and shining experience, for me and only me, that will hopefully stay illuminated in my spirit, as long as I walk this earth.
I don’t know what comes next in my life, but I’ve set my sights high.
Peace. Good health. Long life to you.