Choosing to Rise
When I first began my blog, Tackling the Mountain, my metaphoric mountains were small. My struggles, trivial. I imagined writing about the challenges of changing careers, undergoing self-discovery, building relationships, improving health, and general “adulting.” My greatest difficulties were losing my independence during a career change, dealing with my insecurities, and trying to understand my direction in life.
A family motto inspired the name of my blog. It is a motto that claims any mountain before us can be climbed, that we are equipped to overcome any hurdle. But, the mountains I had experienced were always ones that I could move past. Those mountains were conquerable. They could be surmounted. They were simply obstacles that came between Point A and Point B. Once they were crossed, those mountains were simply part of my history, and they faded in memory.
I was naive. I was innocent and inexperienced. The mountains I had faced were large hills compared to the true mountain yet to come. I knew nothing of true challenge and struggle. I was so unprepared to face it.
Then, in April 2018, my sister was struck and killed. There was no sickness, no warning signs, no chance to say goodbye. She was here and then she was gone. I never saw this mountain looming in the distance as I trudged forward in life, complaining about finding my purpose or ideal career. This immense mountain arose without warning, a sudden result of the colliding tectonic plates, my foundational truths.
I never imagined that the loss of my sister would be my true mountain, my Mount Everest. This is the mountain that will always be in my life. There is no putting it behind me. There is no crossing this mountain and trekking forward until it vanishes in the horizon behind me. This mountain will not be crossed. It will not be forgotten.
It took me some time to accept that my sister’s death will always be with me. I had to come to terms with the fact that grieving the loss of her will never really end. Grief has changed over the months. Grief has evolved, become more bearable, but it doesn’t disappear, as far as I can tell.
What does one do with a mountain that cannot be crossed? What does one do when they are faced with an obstacle they will always endure?
This mountain will always be a landmark in my life. I merely get to decide where I stand. Do I stand in the shadows of it, letting it overpower me, or do I climb it and force it to elevate me? Since I must grieve, why not grieve in the sunlight rather than the shadows? I can let heartbreak define me and see only the darkness around me, or I can let heartbreak open my eyes to appreciate the beauty around me.
So I climb. Every day, I climb. I chose to keep trudging up a mountain. I chose to keep trying to find myself in sunshine and beauty. I chose to keep trying to make this awful mountain make me a better person, a stronger person. I chose to move upward, even when it feels like I am a broken, shattered weakling burdened with forcing Sisyphus’s boulder up a mountain, an impossible, unfathomable expectation.
I don’t get to decide if I will move on. The world moves on regardless. So I move on with it, but I don’t move on from this. This stays with me. I don’t leave it behind. I move on with the passing of time. I move upward in my journey with grief.
As someone who likes control, I have struggled to surrender that which is out of my hands. I know this about myself. I know my urge to make the world as I think it ought to be -in ways I cannot accomplish. I know I can only control what I can change. I cannot change the past. I cannot change the heartbreak, but I can change my perspective. I can control my attitude. I can control my outlook.
This is why I keep trying to climb. Whether or not I climb, my heart is broken. Either way, my sister is gone. But if I don’t climb, my life will only be about her death. If I don’t climb, my life will be shrouded in darkness. So I climb. I choose to find appreciation in what is still here, to honor her vibrant life by keeping vibrancy in mine, and to develop a new appreciation of the wonders in this world.
And yes, I fall. I scrape my knees and bruise my elbows. I stumble over my own feet. I do fall. Simply choosing to climb is much easier than doing the climbing. I persist. I must. I have to continue to move forward with stubborn will at times.
I have to decide to choose to move upward on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. I repeatedly have to make that choice. Some days, I fail. It’s not easy to choose hope and happiness. Some days, I do choose wrong. I choose the easy path of wallowing, of being afraid, of being angry, of sitting at the foot of the mountain and letting it overpower me.
I do indeed fail to follow my own advice at times. So on some days, I’m negative and some days I am crazy and some days I’m a little both, but, in the end, I forcibly drag my exhausted self from where I’ve tumbled down to the base and start back up towards the peak. I remember that I can control how I respond. I can decide to keep fighting to make this mountain something that makes me more than I was. I know I can be happy if I am willing to fight for it. I can see more and experience more than I ever have if I am willing to keep striving forward. The greater the mountain, the greater the views from the top.
Indeed. life is short. Life is brutal. Sometimes, life sucks. But it is so beautiful and full of such possibility. After facing the most terrible things, I believe we need that beauty even more, and, frankly, it is all around us when we choose to open our eyes. Why do some people seem to think they no longer deserve good things after suffering? Why do they only see the flaws and the failures instead of the hope and the wonder?
As the wise mentor that my sister admired once said, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” (For you less cultured folk, that is wisdom from the great Rafiki from the Lion King. Go get yourself acquainted.) I believe in choice. I believe we make daily choices and those choices include our happiness. I believe many of us are so busy running from the hurt that they don’t realize they have actually made a choice. But it’s not too late. Even when a wrong choice is made and a path is taken, there are always opportunities to change course, to begin the climb.
Life is full of wonder. I believe adamantly that there is balance to this world, or, at least, that the world is constantly seeking balance. I’ve experienced the horrible. I’ve experienced tragedy. As such, I believe that, in the need for balance, there is still great joy and love and wonder to be had for me, for my loved ones.
I cannot undo the loss of my sister. I cannot change the heartbreak. I cannot change the hurt. But I can change my perspective. I can change where I stand on the mountain. I can choose to find happiness in life and to live a life full of hope and wonder and joy. I can choose to stop living in the pain, living in the what-ifs, living in the self-loathing, the regret, the guilt of the past. I can choose to not be angry at the world. I can choose to let go of the anger, the resentment, the despair of the hurt. I can choose to ascend without the weight of that added baggage. And, therefore, I can choose to let other incredibly beautiful relationships, opportunities, and moments enter my life. I can choose it and I do choose it. I choose it so that I will live a full life, standing in the sun. I do it because I don’t care for the dim alternative. I choose to live my life the best that I can because the person I lost, the one who can’t do it herself, would judge the hell out of me if I chose to stay in the muddy, dull foothills.
When you lose someone you love, it feels unnatural to step out of the sorrow. When you lose your health and it eats at all that you were, it feels foreign to try to walk again into the world of the living. When you are abandoned by someone who decides to leave, it feels unfathomable, even illogical, to trust another again. When you allow the situation to define you, when you decide that your hurt is your fate, your future is bleak. It remains trapped at the bottom of the mountain.
Whatever trials and burdens you face, I hope you believe that you can climb the great mountains in your life. You choose to stand at the top of your mountain rather than shiver in its shadow.