Monday, March 21, 2011

Climbing Mountains

Some of you may chuckle that these gentle, rolling hills are called "mountains." But they are the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenan-doah Valley in northern Virginia--the place that I have called "home" for a good portion of my adult life. Along with the Urals in Russia, they are among the oldest mountains in the world (which is why they are so gentle and so low: the tectonic crisis that thrust them into the sky had already been settling for millions of years when young mountains like the Rockies were formed).

I love these mountains. I used to hike their trails, early in the morning, for hours to watch the dawn from some perch of rock in the midst of the trees. I loved to hack my way down in the valley for a good fishing spot on the Shenandoah river. When John Paul was a year old, I strapped him on my back and brought him along a stretch of the Appalachian trail, talking to him and dreaming of the day when I would climb mountains with my young man.

That day has not yet come.

I have seen some majestic mountains in my life. I have hiked in Yosemite, soaked by the spray of Vernal Falls. I have rambled through the Alps in the shadow of Mont Blanc. I have wandered on trails ten thousand feet up in the Rockies. I have had a close look at the twin volcanoes of Popocat√©petl and Iztacc√≠huatl in Mexico. I have loved the mountains, but I was not a serious climber. I was a bushwhacker, an explorer, willing to go wherever a large sturdy hiking stick could take me. When I was alone I loved vistas and the trail, but only aimed for the peak when someone else was leading. But of all the mountains I have strolled about and even stretched and grasped and climbed all the way up, the wise old wrinkles of the Blue Ridge are my favorite. They are still here, practically outside my door. The hiking stick is in a corner in the living room. I see it every day.

If you have read my book, you have some idea of why I don't hike anymore.

I cannot say that I am physically prevented from undertaking some form of the outdoor activities I once loved and still love. I am capable of exercise and ordinarily take walks in the neighborhood. But mind and body have conspired to create for me this strange prison, this lack of energy. The desire of my soul is to take up my children and lead them through the hills. But for so long, there have been walls around me. Physical and mental walls. As I said in the book, I want to go outside. I am grateful that I am able to go out the front door and breathe the fresh air. But I want to go outside the walls. I am working, with my doctors and with my wife, to try to discover what these walls are made of, and what must be done to tear them down.

In the meantime, I search for whatever adventures are within or (how exciting) a little beyond my reach, and the kids and I set off to explore the inner landscapes of understanding, of developing a perspective on the world, of history, of music, of humor, of faith and love, and of living patiently with a Daddy who can't do everything he wishes he could.

I want to ask you to pray for my freedom. Pray for me the way you would pray for a hungry person, a poor person, a prisoner. Pray for my freedom. I already have the only freedom that matters, the freedom that makes it possible to face even my weakness. I have faith, although even my faith is a small and fragile thing. Above all, pray that my faith will grow stronger. But pray, too, for my freedom.

I want to climb mountains again.