This day is beautiful. As I sit outside and smoke my morning cigarette, I see what is around me. I see the winter bare crabapple tree and the squirrel on hind legs under the bird feeder, waiting for the cardinal to shake breakfast loose. It is cold, but the sun pins spots of warmth to my body and the gray blockade of clouds are of benevolent blasé.
I have this problem with beauty and, in the same respect, happiness. I cannot see these things as they occur. It is difficult for me to find the beauty in a moment, or happiness in the instant. I can see these moments looking back, or looking forward in anticipation, but rarely do I feel these things now.
That is not to say that I am a wholly unhappy person, who simply drudges from bland life experience to bland life experience. I have had my moments of bliss, of carnal ecstasies and obstructions overcome. But even in these times, there seem additional hurdles after the initial hurdles. Nothing ever seems quite complete, and perhaps this is simply what life is, a never-ending stretch of partial completion.
Today though, I challenge myself to see the beauty now, instead of remembering what was beautiful tomorrow. Today is beautiful. Right now is beautiful.
Never Hike Alone
The summit was above him. He had made it past the boulder field, a thirty-minute stretch, jumping from grey slab to grey slab. Before the boulder field had been the path through the forest. The incline had been difficult, but the growth around the path had been quite thick, and this allowed his mind to remain on the path beneath his feet.
But now he was walking on scree. He was on shifty terrain, the chunks of rock beneath his feet were causing him to slip and slide, and everything around him was wide open. He was struggling to keep his balance, but the sight of the summit carried him forward.
A breath, in and out, with each step; he was struggling to keep himself from panting. Lactic acid burned his thighs, and he could feel the intermittent click of his kneecaps.
The weight on his back was tremendous; this thing that he had been carrying for the entirety of the journey, but had somehow forgotten about since the boulder field, now weighed him down, and he battled each step.
He stared at the destination, the summit, while he climbed, and his feet came suddenly out from under him, and the weight of his pack forced him to the earth.
Quit now, came suddenly into his head. The strain is too much. The destination is not worth the journey. Sometimes you just have to know when to quit.
From behind him, he heard the familiar voice.
“Shit, that was a nasty spill. You OK?”
No, he wanted to say. No, not OK. He was at the breaking point, the moment that occurs on every difficult mountain climb, where the body tries to convince the mind that critical mass has been reached. The point at which the mind must either give in to the body, give into the pain and the anxiety and the doubt, or take control and force the body forward.
A hand was extended to him, and he instinctively grasped at it. He was pulled to his feet.
Without a word, he continued on.
He focused now, not on the summit, but directly at his feet, as he had done in the forest. He watched the right foot rise and plant, then the left foot rise and plant, then the right foot rise and plant, and then the left foot rise and plant…
His mind went blank, for a time, in this repetition. His mind was quiet, and so his body was quiet.
But this could not last forever. He noticed a click from his kneecap, and he remembered suddenly the summit, the thing he had been aiming for since the beginning. He looked up, but it seemed more distant now than before.
He was confused and he stopped, momentarily dumb. He turned to the one behind him, the confusion in his eyes obvious, and the explanation came without the question.
“It was a false summit. We still have a ways to go before we reach the real one.”