Back in 1923, the famed British pioneer climber George Leigh Mallory was asked why he wanted to go back to Everest for a third attempt at the summit. He replied: “There is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain, and goes out to meet it…The struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”
This past Thursday was an adventure of “sheer joy” for me–a “summit” moment if you will.
I was invited to read my “Wonder Mold Mother” piece as the opening speaker at the 2nd Annual Arapahoe Community College Foundation luncheon at the Invernness Hotel. When I accepted the invitation, I had no idea I would be reading in front of 200 people or that I would be the kick-off presentation for the afternoon. It was a bit unnerving to hear only glasses and forks softly clinking as I stood at the lecturn baring my mother soul to a mixed audience of business and academic leaders. Addressing large groups of people is something completely out of my element, but amazingly, I felt composed and was filled with a sense of serenity knowing that figuratively, I was being supported and upheld by the positive thoughts of dear friends and family members, none of whom could be with me at the event.
Later in the program, keynote speaker Jake Norton, asked the audience if any of us would be where we are without the help of others. He talked about the importance of teamwork and as he did, I thought about the great network of support I have been blessed with. I thought about my good husband who has allowed me to go back to school during this extremely demanding phase of our lives. I thought of my oldest daughter who babysits for me and holds down the fort when my husband is out of town. I thought of the encouraging words of friends and family members, of other mothers who have traded babysitting with me so I can go to class, of professors who cheer me on and stretch me by offering me plenty of opportunities to grow.
Jake also asked us “What is your Everest?” and “What crevasses stand between you and the summit?” I thought of how just three days earlier I was ready to throw in the towel on school–to give up on my dream of working toward my degree. It seems like every mid-semester, I hit that point when it feels like I just can’t continue on. My husband and I had arrived home at about 9:30 p.m.–me from my Monday night Philosophy class and him from a business trip. My oldest daughter had uncomplainingly watched the kids all night but the house was a mess and she had forgot to put away the crock-pot lasagna I had made earlier for the kids. It was now burned in the bottom of the slow cooker. Although neither my husband or myself had had dinner, we tried to reassure my daughter, put the house back in some assemblance of order, and get the younger kids off to bed.
As I was kneeling on the floor picking up Matchbox cars and wooden Brio train pieces in my sons’ room, I tried to hold back the tears. I was hungry and tired–tired of the fight, tired of trying to do everything, tired of spreading myself so thin. I thought to myself “It’s just not worth it. It’s just too hard to keep doing this right now at this point in my life. Maybe I should wait another 3 years until Sam is in Kindergarten and then resume my scholastic career. Certainly mothering and housework alone should be enough to keep me occupied and content.” Occupied yes, but not entirely fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong–I love being a mother, but cutting myself off from intellectual stimulation and my studies would be a death warrant to my soul. No–I had to keep going. And so I went to bed and woke up the next morning ready to face my challenges once again.
Jake said, “…joy doesn’t lie in the summit snow cone, in reaching the top and checking the goal off our ‘to do’ list. Rather, the true joy in climbing our Everests lies on the sides of the mountain, in the myriad of challenges we find ourselves working against. It is only by pitting ourselves against a seemingly indomitable foe in life that we realize just how far we can push, just how much we can accomplish. It is the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. But, in the words of Robert Pirsig, without the top, we can’t have the sides.”
I’ve come a long way since my first reading in front of 20 people last September. I made some amazing contacts at the ACC Foundation Luncheon and got to sit at the head table with Rubi Nicholas, the “Funniest Mom in America”, the President of the college, Burt Glandon, and Jake Norton. I celebrate my summit moment knowing how ephemeral it is. Soon it will be time to descend and go back down to the sides of my mountain where the growth is. Soon it will be time to set my sights on new summits so I can keep climbing “forever upward,” and discover yet again the joy in the struggle.