A friend who spent most of his life in the mountains and now lives in the Piedmont recently said to me, “My only beef with North Carolina is the tree canopy. You can’t look out over things.” He has a point. In New Mexico, you can see everything. The land is BIG. The sky is HUGE. I suppose this is because on the mesa the only vegetation is sage brush, scrub greenery, and sensual groves of Cottonwood trees. The mountains sport several ecosystems including the drought resistant, low growing Pinion and Juniper forests to the South, and tall Douglas and White firs to the North.
There is always a view.
One of my dearest friends who is living through the unimaginable wrote, “Today marks one year of death being a reality! One year of trying to understand and realizing that there’s no sense in even asking ‘WHY?’ because the answer is too convoluted. There is not a doubt in my mind that without God, doing what we are doing would be an impossibility.”
Why is faith so difficult? Why, after a lifetime of God demonstrating trustworthiness do I cling to the need for vision before action? Why do I continue to grasp at knowing a future which is not mine to know? I suppose there is no sense in asking these questions.
On my trip I was afraid to do the thing I most wanted to do. I told myself, “I can’t go hiking alone. There are risks you just don’t take when you have small children.” But the mountains kept calling. So I reached out to a friend. I told her where I was going and how long I would be gone. I studied the trail map, dressed in layers, packed water, and a snack.
When I got to the trail head, two middle-aged women and their dogs got out of the car in front of me. Their presence boosted my confidence and I knew that, while solo, I would not be alone. I followed them onto the trail and passed them soon after. I came to a fork in the path and called back for directions. “Just go to the right.” They were very kind.
I hiked up the rocky, dirt trail. I wove my way through Pinion and Juniper and Gamble Oak. I stopped often to take pictures, enjoy the view, slow my breathing, and drink some water. Most of the time I was by myself but I met enough people on the trail – many of whom were women alone – to keep from feeling isolated and afraid.
I made it to the top.
Throughout most of my twenties and early thirties I was ill and could not walk the flat, one mile loop around the lake at Kanuga without pain and an overwhelming need to go back to bed. And yet, through those long years of chronic fatigue I had a vision of myself climbing a mountain in my late thirties. I dreamt of being one of those women who gets stronger and more physical with age. Throughout the pain I had vision. And I had faith.
And I had the same nervousness I have now.
My time in New Mexico brought a brief reprieve from my present anxiety. But it soon returned. Before sitting down to write this I said some prayers of the “help me” variety and opened my Rule of St. Benedict with commentary by Sister Joan Chittister. This is what I found.
Life is often a series of false starts while we find out who we are and determine where we really want to go. Benedict understands the struggle of uncertainty and indecision and makes room for it. After all, the giving of oneself to anything is no small thing and should be done with reflection and with peace of mind.
I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps anxiety is a key part of the structure on the bridge between faith and vision. One we have to walk through, to accept, to feel rather than circumvent. Very often my anxiety is a clue that at some point I am going to have to take action to bring a vision to life. Very often my anxiety is also born out of indecision because I want to be certain the action I take is the right one. The one that is going to lead to the easy fulfillment of my dreams. But that is not faith. That is not peace of mind.
I did not make it to the top of the mountain in New Mexico by ensuring that every decision, every step I made over the course of the past decade would get me there. I got to the top of the mountain by giving myself to the difficult faith journey of illness, healing, motherhood, divorce. I got to the top of the mountain by determining that where I want to go is the place where my heart and soul feel free. That is and was the core vision. The mountain is just detail.
Last summer a colleague gave me a necklace with a charm that looks like an upside down crescent moon. It’s the symbol of a longhorn and came with the inscription, “She who has courage is free.” I wear this almost every day. It comforts me. It reminds me that anxiety is not the only one on the bridge. Courage lives there too. It reminds me that even in my weakest state I am also the woman who just traveled solo to climb a mountain in a foreign land. It reminds me that I’ve walked through things that felt impossible and can do so again.
It reminds me that I did not do any of this alone. God in all her forms was with me every step of the way, holding parts of the vision I could not see.