Friday, May 1, 2009

Alpiniste


(Baldy Mountain is the left eye of the "frog." This is the view out my dining room window.)

Years ago I experienced quite an ordeal. We were told that for the stake YM\YW super summer activity, we would climb a mountain not far from my home. Since I was serving in the YW of our ward at that time, this challenging feat would involve me.

As many of you know, I'm a Type 1 diabetic. This was a concern for my husband and our bishop. Both cautioned me with regard to this particular activity. Neither of them thought I should attempt this climb. I assured both men that I would be fine. I promised to carefully watch my blood sugar level, to take along carb snacks, and to pace myself. I figured I was in fairly good health, all things considered. After all, I walked 5 days a week with a good friend. We usually walked about 3 miles at a somewhat brisk pace. That mountain didn't scare me--until I was halfway up, struggling beyond what I had envisioned.

We began this exciting adventure near the base of a mountain known in our neck of the woods as Baldy. (It earned this nickname from the lack of trees on top. In comparison to the neighborning mountains, it looks bald.) It's also the left eye of what is also commonly known as "the frog" here in Bennington. If you look at the picture posted above, you may see how it received that name. ;)

I figured we would start climbing Baldy right off the bat. It wasn't until we had all gathered at the designated meeting place that we learned we would actually be climbing two smaller mountains\hills first. It would be a seven mile hike straight uphill.

Gathering my courage, I was still determined to participate. This was the first big activity for my oldest son in the YM's program and he had been excited to hike with me that day. Plus most of my Mia Maid class had come to take part in the climb, and they were cheering me on as well, since quite a few of the adult leaders in our stake had bowed out of this activity.

Things started out well. We were all in good spirits and eager to prove ourselves. Then, about halfway up that first hill, my left leg began to cramp up in a horrible fashion. I figured it was because of the damage this leg had experienced a few years earlier due to a blood clot adventure. The circulation has never been very good in that leg as a result. Later on I would learn that I was in the beginning stages of a crippling form of rheumatoid arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis), and it was the true culprit that day.

I was in so much pain by the time I reached the top of that first hill, I was ready to throw in the towel. In fact, I did just that. "I'm sorry, I can't go on," I told my son and my Mia Maids. They said they understood, but the sad look in their eyes haunted me. Doing my best to ignore that, I limped to a nearby pine tree, sat down, and ran a check on my blood sugar. Severe pain tends to drop that level and it was on its way down. So I relaxed against that tree in the shade and sipped apple juice, watching as everyone else went on without me. (A couple of the other leaders had volunteered to stay with me, but I assured everyone I would be fine by myself, and that I would wait there for their return later on that day.)

As I watched while the others climbed the second, taller hill, I felt a little nudge of guilt. I've usually never been one to give up easily. And yet, I had allowed some discomfort to stand in the way of accomplishing something I knew in my heart I had really wanted to achieve. Gathering my courage, I stuffed everything back inside my backpack and continued on my way.

It wasn't too bad going downhill. I was still limping, but my leg functioned somewhat normally. Then I began climbing the second hill and found I was in just as much pain as I had been in earlier. I did my best to ignore it, sucked on pieces of hard candy to keep my blood sugar level where it needed to be, and I made it to the top of the second hill.

Winded, but determined now to finish this thing, I hobbled down the back of the second hill. About halfway down, one of the stake YM leaders who had been assigned the "difficult" task of driving his truck up to the base of Baldy with a load of water coolers, spotted me limping down that second hill and he drove up to where I was struggling. He told me to climb inside the truck, which I obediently did, and he then drove us down to the base of Baldy Mountain. Along the way I received a lecture about overdoing, and was counseled to give up.

"You don't need to finish this climb," he stressed to me. "I can tell you're in a lot of pain---you've more than gone the extra mile with this activity, just relax now and wait for everyone to return."

I sat there for a few minutes, recovering, but as I watched everyone else struggle up Baldy Mountain, I couldn't ignore what I was feeling inside. This had become a personal vendetta between myself, my wayward body, and Baldy.

Climbing out of the truck, I thanked the nice stake leader for his concern and told him this was something I needed to do. I couldn't explain why that was to either of us, but I was determined to see this thing through to the end.

With renewed vigor, I began to climb that final mountain. And it was more difficult than the other two hills combined. Halfway up, my left leg collapsed on me, and I nearly rolled down the mountain as a result. I sat there, uncertain of what to do. Above me, I could hear my son and Mia Maids calling to me. Around me, since I had managed to catch up with some of the other leaders, I was being told to stay put. Closing my eyes, I prayed. I explained to our Father in heaven how much I wanted to finish this climb, but I wasn't sure I could. I asked for His help, and it was granted. A thought came to mind quite strong, and I knew it was my answer. I remained in a sitting position, and began to use my arms and right leg to propel myself up the rest of that mountain.

That climb took everything I could do, and then some. But when I finally reached the top of that mountain, there was such a feeling of exhilaration. An emotional reunion took place as my son and Mia Maids hugged the stuffings out of me. They had seen how much I had endured to make that climb and we all cried together.

After several minutes, I was able to put weight on my left leg. I stood, and gazed out at the view before me, pondering all I would have missed if I had stayed in the shade under that pine tree down below.

A strong analogy came to mind that afternoon, as it was impressed upon me that sometimes, during painful trials, we have to trust in God, gather our courage, and continue on. The climb, though arduous, is always worth every effort made.

Six months later, one of my Mia Maids who had climbed Baldy with me that day, was killed in a car accident. That experience of climbing Baldy would help us all to survive the pain of losing this sweet young woman. The bond formed while climbing Baldy, would prove crucial as we pulled together to climb that mountain of grief.

Since that time, I have often pondered the lessons learned on that day of climbing mountains. I even wrote a poem about it I entitled Alpiniste, which is French for mountain climber:

Alpiniste

Darkness overwhelms
It is too much
I cannot climb
The sheer rock
That slices ‘til I bleed.
There is no strength to face this challenge.

But I have come this far—
To give up now makes a mockery of all that has passed before.
Closing my eyes, I am led by an inner peace that beckons,
Reminding me of a presence that has been there all along.
Slowly, I make my way, clutching at handholds that guide—
Sustain.
The Sun shines bright upon my face as I make the final stretch,
Reaching for what most would deem beyond my grasp.

It is finished.
I have learned to face the wind
The clouds
The rain.
I have conquered the fear that held me back.
At the summit is a beauty that was always there
Beyond my limited sight.

I turn and see another mountain—
But I have learned to climb.

Cheri J. Crane

I will end with a thought given to me by a wonderful friend who is facing an entire mountain range at the moment. It is simply this: "Remember when you see a woman on top of a mountain, she didn't fall there."

(If you'll click on this picture, it will enlarge for a closer look. It was taken the day we climbed Baldy. You'll possibly spot me on the front row, kneeling in the midst of my Mia Maids. A camera case is slung over one shoulder.)

6 comments:

Doran & Jody said...

What a wonderful accomplishment!!! Thanks for sharing. You are an inspiration!!
I will try to remember this when I go through my tough trials. I may also remember your friends quote when I am running. I wish I could run like my brother and hubby. But as long as I stick to it I am climbing right?

THE PORTER FAMILY said...

I'm pretty sure I was there that day, but can't tell if I'm in the picture or not. I had no idea you were in such pain.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Amanda. I'm almost positive you were with us that day. But I can't tell if you're in the picture either. =)And yep, I paid a big price for that mountain climbing adventure. After that hike, I formed painful lumps on my bad leg. The doctors thought at first it was bone cancer. Then after numerous tests were run, they found out two things: I tested positive for lupus, and the lumps were from the rheumatoid arthritis. Good times. But I'm still glad I made the climb. ;)

Cheri J. Crane said...

Jody, it is a wonderful quote. It has inspired me on numerous occasions. ;)And yes, if you're running, that is definitely comparable to climbing mountains. =)

Cindy Beck said...

That's quite an accomplishment, especially under such difficult circumstances. Thanks for sharing it ... and for the lovely poem.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Thanks, Cindy. =) I'm glad you liked it.