I have two biological nieces. My sister lives in Lithonia Georgia, where my youngest favorite-don't-tell-your-sister niece was celebrating her last "Homecoming" Week as a High School Student at Miller Grove High School. GO WOLVERINES!!! My eldest favorite-don't-tell-your-sister niece began a tradition in 2004; Auntie comes to town, dotes on her, dresses her like the doll baby she really is, and leaves in a blaze of glory for all the work we've accomplished in 3 days. Flash forward to 2011, my youngest favorite-don't-tell-your-sister niece is wearing a pink one shoulder bubble dress to the dance. Each of the girls in her group want to "rock leopard somewhere" on their person for the dance. I guess they are like The Cheetah Girls.... My niece will be wearing a leopard print lace-up 3-inch wedge shoe as her leopard accessory. As an added bonus, Auntie being a real Drag Queen, creates the same leopard print on her eyelids! Lashes and all! If you want photo proof, let me know...
Anywho, my sister notices that my husband has lost an extreme amount of weight in the past 90 days. He has been jogging quite a bit, to our enjoyment. The meditation and clarity that working out provides does not go unnoticed. She declares to us, "Get some rest in the morning because we are climbing Stone Mountain!" Now the events of the weekend are such: The Homecoming game-which we lost thanks to the wide passes of our quarterback (he'll get better). Sidebar, the smoked turkey necks with bread at the game, I'm still licking my fingers...I digress.
Saturday night is the dance....Friday night is my sister's announcement.
Saturday morning, my favorite oldest son calls to let me know that he locked his keys in his car, and tried to call 911. He was slightly miffed at the way they address his need as a non-emergency issue. "Unless there is a baby in the car, we no longer open car doors sir." I was waiting for him to ask us to bring his brother home, and lock him in the car so that 911 would come. Somedays go like that you, you have NO idea! Instead we call our car insurance NATIONWIDE really is ON YOUR SIDE. Problem solved in 30 minutes. My sister hears that we are awake, and once again, she begins her song and dance about our climbing Stone Mountain. My husband and I get dressed, he in regular shorts because, "there are
no mountains in Georgia worth wasting his jogging clothes for". My oldest favorite-don't-tell-your sister niece borrows my sweats and grabs my youngest favorite-don't-tell-your-sister niece and we load my sister's car, and we are off to what my husband calls the mound.
The Stone Mountain park area is so very populated. Unexpectedly populated in fact. At least that is my initial thought. We grab our water bottles, take a few photos for posterity sake and head toward the mass of Georgians who obviously have it in for themselves. My husband and sister taunt each other the first 55 meters into the grove of granite. She teases him about not taking the work of the mountain seriously, he for her "frog shoes" that the "salesman sold her because he saw a sucker coming". I stayed silent because I'm noticing that there are people carrying their children, strollers, walkers, hikers, joggers, all going up, and coming down. As we began our trek through the first brush of trees, there was a group of people from Guatemala (I guessed correctly) who had a large amount of children with them walking with us. I told myself, "Self! Get away from these children, they will surely slow you down! You'll have to keep stopping to help one of them when they fall, and then you won't enjoy your time walking up this beautiful mountain, although its nothing like the mountains of British Columbia." We travel to the left of the "crowd" and the beads of sweat began drop. Well! I had a hand towel, so I dab at the sweat and forge ahead. Forge ahead, as in each step is undetermined, to the degree that you have to focus on each step you take. Large boulders of Granite, mixed with small pebbles, and stones, mixed with the broken cracked past of those who have climbed before, each step showing the wear of the step before.
First lesson learned: There is nothing wrong with keeping your head down, when you are determined that the end result allows you to choose whether it stays down.
On to the next few steps. We paused to allow each of us to take time to process what we were experiencing. My oldest favorite-don't-tell-your-sister niece was just tired, I was feeling the tedium of strain on my quads, my son was running forward, marching back to find out what was taking us so long. My husband was determined not to concede to my sister; while my sister was determined to prove that her "frog shoes" were the best hiking shoes on the planet! My youngest favorite-don't- tell- your-sister niece, announced that we were out of shape. And she was right. Still, stopping there offered another lesson.
Second lesson learned: Just because others are on the journey with you, it doesn't mean they are experiencing the same journey as you.
As we move up, my breathing begins to heavy, and the children who were together at the bottom, were coming through is like water over a ROCK! Honestly, all of a sudden, their laughter overwhelmed the sound of my breathing. The joy they got from skipping, jumping and springing up the peak was shocking. Couldn't they feel how difficult this was? Surely they do this more often than we know. My husband stopped to ask, and don'tcha know? They climb like this all the time! There was no need to waste time talking with them any longer. In my mind, they will beat me to the top anyway, so why not get a headstart on losing?
Third lesson: While on my journey, I cannot view everyone as competition or companion. I have to compete with my personal defect; and accompany my will in order to succeed.
My sister warned me about this next part. She said there would come a time when no one speaks, because you're simply trying to "get there". INTERESTING! All around us, the frequency of sound shifted from human voices, to the sole inner pant, the heartbeat of life, and the song of nature becoming natural again. It was a very nice waltz I should say. My pattern of breathing became more rhythmic, and I found myself gathered in the thought of how much longer? We arrived at what is considered the half way mark, sat under the small picnic area for nearly five whole minutes and I paused. I could not yet see above the tallest tree, I could see that I had traveled far enough to distinguish the distance below me. As I sat, I declared to my 'self' that I should take everything in. Look all around, and create the landscape that cannot be replaced with the camera. I'm happy that I did, because the picture that I remember so vividly is not the one of trees, and people passing by, and water breaks. The picture I remember is scented with life, and sweat and dryer cloths (my towel). It was filtered through the borrowed lens of my sister's sun glasses, and the sounds of our family being at peace with the knowledge that we have come half way to the top. I thought of the elephant in the room, can we just stop and turn back? What came to me is this, yes you can, but will you? As we rose from the benches:
Fourth Lesson Learned: There is just as much time spent turning back from success as there is left in making it all the way.
Am I hot? Yes. Tired? Yes. Frustrated that I'm ruining the hair-doo? OF COURSE! Will I turn back? No. We leave the small reprieve that the shelter offers and head upward. There are openings in the trees that offer a fractured window of the sky. It is more blue and more clear than I can recall, and the air has become even and bright. For 11 am, it is becoming interestingly cool here. The hawks are circling above, and small pockets of water have made puddles and pools below. Here and there, I see the markings and carvings of people who were patient enough to reward themselves with a memorial certain to last forever in the bluff of granite we are ascending.
Fifth Lesson Learned: Life Goes On! While you're in the middle of what seems like a endlessly tiresome journey, normalcy is still available to you.
Our scale upward comes to a steep crawl and what looks like worn stairs with a parallel rail, is the very next design of this trek. Along the mount, there are several worn out soldiers who are blocking my way by virtue of the fact that I need this rail, and you're hugging it for dear life! "Come on, Move it or I'll be forced to smack you on the butt!" The sole soldier left in my way, began the forty-some-odd steps to the top. I told her that every footstep she took, I'd follow, and if she tired and fell, she'd fall on me. Obviously, my sixth lesson learned- Help others. Remember she was already ahead, it only helped me to encourage her success if I wanted to also get to the top.
What happened next is truly what prompted me to blog this in total. My husband (who is rarely still long enough to be deep in thought) made this statement. "Look at how many people are coming down!" At that moment, time stopped and I grabbed my towel, pretending to wipe the sweat. I was so glad no one could see my tears. All of the remaining lessons flooded me at once. So shall I give them to you:
Seventh Lesson Learned: There are many who have made this journey that you are on. Each one finding their way to the top using the tools they have been given. Although there are many who have done what you are doing, few have done what you're going to do when you get to the top, which is why you have been chosen to do it. Continue to the top.
Continue I will! There is a flat range of mountain that looks like the top. We really could stop there, but I see more people ahead, so at this point, let us just see what lies ahead. Just over the hill, is the final scale of granite to test my will to see the view from 758 feet above my genesis. My sister says, "Kim, turn around and walk backward, it'll help your calves." It did, but it also helped me to see that there were people sprinting, walking, sojourning, and happily dancing for the same goal as I. I looked at the view from up there, above helicopters, and birds, I could see the tops of the trees now. The sky reached down to hug us, and the sound of victory en masse hurled itself toward my soul.
We walked around the "welcome to Stone Mountain" center for about 20 minutes; took pictures all of which my sister has gloriously posted on facebook; and began the journey downward.
Eighth Lesson Learned: If you choose to come down, you should choose carefully. I am certain I did not choose the same steps going down that I did coming up. I could feel my "cheerleader" knees begin to buckle, and my ankles gave way to the depth of uncertain landings. We stopped on the way down only to encourage those who were going up, or to take pictures in jest. When I saw the Confederate flags waving in ensemble to the wind, I knew I had indeed come down, and the work should begin again.
Until next time,