Wednesday, October 10, 2012
The Dreamer and the Mountain
The little boy was so excited to see his father and grandfather return home from working in the fields that he shrieked as he ran to greet them.
His older brother rolled his eyes in amusement that he didn't get such a warm welcome as well, but then disappeared into his room to have some peace and quiet despite his little brother's exuberance.
A thick and sturdy man lifted his son to give him a hug, pretending to grunt at the boys weight. “Oh! Pretty soon you'll be big enough to come work in the fields with us.”
The boy grinned enthusiastically, but then gasped as he remembered something vitally important. “Papa! I saw a huge flash of light from the mountain today!”
A small smile crossed his father's lips. “Yes, the Gods like to make their presence known from time to time.”
“I want to go to the mountain and see the light for myself!” The boy insisted.
“Then perhaps one day you shall,” his father remarked, amused by the thought. His grandfather shook his head over such a foolish thought.
Over the next few years, the boy talked about almost nothing else. His excitement grew until he could no longer contain it.
“Father, I'm 13 years old now; I think it's time I went to the mountain. The light flashed again today, and I think it's a sign that the Gods want me to visit them.”
His father sighed and looked to the boy's mother. She looked concerned bordering on worried, but shrugged.
“Son... it's dangerous to climb the mountain.”
“I don't care! I'm not afraid!” The boy insisted.
“Of course you aren't!” His grandfather muttered with a shake of his head. “The young don't know how to be afraid.”
“What would you have me do, Grandpa? Stay home and cower in my bed? I can't live my life like that!” The boy insisted hotly.
Grandpa simply shook his head and didn't say anything.
Father sighed again. “If you are certain that you want to do this... that the Gods have called you to them... then who am I to stop you?”
The boy jumped up and down in excitement. “I've been preparing for this my whole life!” He disappeared into his room for a moment, and then returned with a large sack. It carried a rope and some dried meat, among other things he thought he might need.
His mother squeezed him tight, dearly wishing she knew what to say to change his mind.
As soon as he could shake off the loving embraces of his family, he set off on his journey. It took him a week to get to the mountain that could be clearly seen in the distance from his home. Another week was devoted to ascending the nearly vertical peak as much as he possibly could.
He knew how to climb and had practiced on everything he could at home. So, he was prepared for what others might consider a daunting task.
About halfway up the mountain, he encountered something he'd never thought possible... the cold. It was relatively warm and sunny where he lived all year long. Never once had it occurred to him that this wasn't true on the mountain.
Not one to be defeated so easily, he pressed on. Two days later, he lay resting on a tiny ledge. As he stared up at the sky, he wondered if the Gods had actually been warning him to stay away all these years.
He was so cold that he couldn't move. His hands and arms were turning blue. Never in his life had he been so terrified of anything!
“This is impossible after all! I'm going to die out here...”
With a sigh of defeat, he accepted his fate and closed his eyes to wait for the afterlife. A cold wind blew. It felt like shards of glass brushing across his skin. He shivered violently, forgetting that there wasn't room to move on this tiny ledge.
A moment later, he slid of the ledge and plummeted to his death. Luckily, he had known enough to secure his body to the mountain with his rope. Even luckier, the rope held his weight, saving him just before he would have collided with the ground.
He had passed out and didn't know that he was yet among the living.
When he came to, he realized that he was warm again. He still dangled from the rope, but he was alive. And starving! He inhaled a sizzling breath when a pain in his leg demanded his attention.
Cutting himself free of the rope, he thanked the Gods that he still had his bag. Absently shoving some dried meat in his mouth, he examined his leg. It wasn't broken, but there was a large and nasty looking scab across his thigh.
Blood on the ground attested that he had lost a lot of it before it had finally healed enough to stop bleeding.
“It's a wonder that I didn't die!”
He ate as much of his food as he dared over the next couple of days, but then he had to return home or risk starving. By the time he returned home, he felt like a weary old man.
His family saw him coming and rushed to greet him like a returning hero. His father swept him into his strong arms.
“My son has made it to the top of them mountain and returned to tell the tale!”
The boy desperately wanted to let his family continue to believe this. He didn't want to disappoint them or let them think he had failed... but his eyes filled with tears and he could stop himself from crying.
“No, I didn't!”
Over the next couple of hours, they fussed over him and listened to his tale. When he was finally calm and at peace, his father placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Don't feel bad son. Some dreams just aren't meant to come true.”
The boy felt a jolt of shock strike him. He gaped at his father incredulously.
“Yes they are! I will never believe that it can't be done!”
His father heaved a great sigh, but didn't argue.
The boy talked about his dream to climb the mountain from time to time over the next 5 years, but his family assumed that he was simply repeating a half-hearted belief. It actually came as a shock to them when the boy announced that he was finally ready to try again.
“I have prepared much better this time. I have warmer clothes, more dried meat, and better tools to help me climb the mountain. I will not fail again!”
His family knew better than to argue with him, so they wished him luck. All except for his grandfather.
“Anyone can make a mistake once, but only a fool refuses to learn his lesson and does it again!”
The boy smirked wryly. “I love you too, Grandpa.”
This time, his journey seemed much easier than it had the first time. He made it to the mountain in just under a week. Then, he climbed the side of the mountain as if it was as simple as breathing.
When he reached the cold, he found a relatively safe ledge and rested while he bundled up. He got about 3/4ths of the way to the top over the course of nearly two weeks. The top was in sight and he felt like there was nothing in the world that could stop him.
Then his foot slipped causing his other foot to loose its perch. This tore his hands from their holds. The next thing he knew, he was plummeting to the ground.
Trying to remain as calm as possible, he caught the rope and stopped his fall. Looking up rather than down, he realized that he was just barely half way up the mountain.
“It's not so bad. I could have to start over!”
Six more weeks passed as he climbed and fell over and over. Finally, he was too exhausted to go on. He stared at the ground as he dangled from his rope. Sleep hit him before he could decide what to do next.
When he woke up, an in depth inventory of his pack revealed that he didn't have enough food to make the climb again. With terrible disappointment, he decided to return home.
His family excitedly demanded to hear what the top of the mountain looked like, but he was almost too depressed to talk about it.
“What's there to tell. I couldn't make it; I kept falling...”
“You're alive,” his grandfather stated. “That's all that matters.
“And you tried your best. No one could ask for more,” his father added.
His mother simply held him tight, but his brother snorted almost derisively.
“Maybe now he'll concentrate on some real work for a change!”
Glaring at his brother, the would-be mountain climber sneered. “Just go marry your girl and leave me alone! What does it matter what I do when you're about to have a small brood of babies to look after!”
“Ouch...” his brother grumbled, intuitively knowing that the attitude was the product of frustration more than anything.
Which was true, but the boy was also subtly pointing out that the family lands would one day belong to his brother while he would have to make his own way in the world.
As soon as his depression faded, he went out to their shed and stared at the tools he'd brought with him. Slowly, thoughts started to form in his head.
“I need something that will stop me from falling...”
Five years passed before the boy – now a fully grown man – was ready to try again. He slipped out of his house like a thief in the night so that he wouldn't have to listen to his family express their opinions about how stupid he was to not give up on his dream already.
Even with his better equipment, he reached a point where the ice was too thick. His tools couldn't get a good enough grip to hold him. He kept falling – not as far, but it was still disheartening. The last straw was when – after three months of trying – the cold finally got to be too much for him to handle.
He stared at the ground that was so far below him that he could just barely see it. It felt like the worst thing possible to have to climb all the way back down even though he still hadn't fulfilled his dreams.
“I should just cut my rope and let myself fall...”
Death seemed vastly preferable to failure again!
As he trudged home, he wondered why the Gods made this so damn difficult! “If they truly want me to visit them at the top of the mountain, then why don't they help me out a little?!”
After all, when the Gods set a person on their true path, they usually tried to remove as many obstacles from the path as possible. Doing as the Gods commanded was never easy, but it wasn't impossible either. The Gods made sure of that.
“This is impossible...” he muttered.
Once home, his family knew better than to assume that he had made it this time. They watched him silently, not knowing what to say. Finally, his father sighed.
“Son, maybe it's time to find a knew dream...”
This was like a bucket of water tossed onto a sleeping man. “Never! I refuse to give up! I will make it to the top of that mountain or die trying!”
His grandpa shook his head. “Always so foolish... perhaps it's time to find a different way to reach the top...”
This was so confusing that it took him several minutes to reply. “What? What different way? There is only one way to the top!”
“Straight up, I know...” his grandfather agreed. Without another word, he drew the mountain the best he could considering that he had only seen it from a distance.
The stubborn dreamer watched his grandfather with a frown of puzzlement. The drawing was basic, but depicted the mountain well.
“The mountain is vertical, ascending so high that the top is above the clouds, right?” Grandpa asked.
“I assume that you start at the bottom and climb until you simply cannot climber any more.”
The dreamer nodded.
“And then you fall and try again.”
“Have you ever considered going around the mountain?” Grandpa asked, his eyes twinkling as if he knew something his grandson didn't.
“Around?” The dreamer parroted stupidly. “How would that help me get to the top?”
“As you've said, you only get so high before you end up falling. Once you reach ice too thick to provide a good grip for your tools... but at this part of the mountain, the incline also changes. It slants just a bit more. Why not try digging a path in the ice, circling the mountain – like the thread on a screw – until you reach the very top.”
“Grandpa! You're a genius!”
“Nah,” Grandpa replied gruffly with a light blush. “I simply have the wisdom of far too many years of observation.”
Inspired once more, the dreamer set about making the tools he would need to carve out a path in the ice. It took him a few more years to gather all the supplies that he would need, but finally he was ready to go.
“Why does Uncle always want to climb the mountain?” a small boy asked.
“My brother is too stupid to know when to give up,” the boy's father replied. “Son, I pray you never become infected by foolish dreams...”
The dreamer pretended to ignore them and set out on his way for hopefully the last time. His grandfather's suggestion worked beautifully, except that it also took many times longer to travel the same distance.
The good news was that the excess ice cut from the path made a decent shelter. It was impossible to carry enough food to last him until he reached the top, so he had to climb back down the mountain to hunt and replenish his supplies from time to time. No one saw or heard from him for over a year.
Finally, in sheer exhaustion, the man trudged home. His family almost didn't recognize him because he had changed so much.
“Well,” his father prompted cautiously. “Did you make it to the top?”
“Not quite,” he grunted in reply. “I'm so very close! I simply need to rest before I make the last stretch of the journey.”
His mother fussed over him in concern when coughs racked his body. A year in the cold had weakened his body until he could no longer fight off a simple cold. More than anything, he needed to recover his strength. The kind of strength that made a man vibrantly healthy, not the physical kind of strength.
It took him much longer than he thought it would, but finally he was ready to make the last journey up the mountain. His father took him aside before he could leave.
“Son, you're almost 30. I hope that you wake up and start living your life before you discover that it's too late.”
“Don't worry, father, it will soon be over. I am just about to fulfill my dreams!”
“And then what?”
The dreamer didn't know what to say, so he simply shrugged and set out for the mountain.
He lost track of time long before he reached the top. When his hand reached up and found nothing to hold onto, he was so startled that he almost fell! Climbing up the last three feet felt simply incredible!
He stood on the top of the mountain and shouted his joy for all to hear. It was a flat table-like area of land that was big enough that a man could build a castle if he so desired... and could withstand the freezing cold and the complete isolation...
After his exuberance faded, he lay down to rest. “I can die happy now...”
Time passed. Enough that it occurred to him to wonder why it had been so important for him to climb all the way to the top of the mountain.
“To see the lights and to meet the Gods...”
He had enough supplies left that he could wait until the Gods realized that he was there. He built a shelter and settled in to wait.
A few days later, he shouted out angrily. “I'm right here! Why won't you acknowledge me?!”
Nothing could calm his anger except for sitting on the edge of the mountain and looking out at the beautiful clouds all around him.
A few more days later, and he realized that he had never once seen lights flashing while he was on the mountain. Even now that he was where the lights seemed to originate, he could not figure out where they came from.
He waited as long as he possibly could and then finally admitted he had to go home or risk starving up here. In his depression, he almost decided that starving was better than going home. With a sigh, he began the long journey home.
His father's words rang over and over in his mind: Now what? Now that he had accomplished his lifelong dream, what was there left for him to do?
No answers came to him until he had been moping in his room for so long that his grandfather lost his temper.
“How long to you plan to wallow in self pity, boy?”
“I'm a man now Grandpa...”
“Are you?” Grandpa challenged.
“Of course! I'm 30 years old!”
“Then why are you just sitting here like a petulant child?!”
“Because... even though I reached the top of the mountain, I didn't see the lights or meet the Gods...”
“Tell me about the top? What's it like?” Grandpa asked, his own childhood dreams returning to him. He had never had the courage his grandson did.
The stubborn dreamer described every detail for nearly an hour before he finally ran out of things to say.
His grandfather was quiet for a long time, and then – in a soft voice – imparted his thoughts. “It seems to me that it was never really about reaching the top of the mountain...”
“What do you mean Grandpa?”
“If all you wanted was simply to get to the top, you would be the happiest man in the world, but you're not. It seems to me that what you really wanted was to meet the Gods and prove to them that you were worthy of their love.”
This concept boggled the dreamer's mind and he was silent, unable to think of anything to say.
“Maybe that's also why it was so incredibly hard to get to the top. Maybe the Gods were trying to tell you that you had interpreted their message incorrectly. Maybe they were trying to get you to figure out a different way to prove yourself to them...”
“How else could I?” The dreamer demanded. “What more could they want from me?! I climbed an entire mountain just to please them!”
Grandpa shrugged. “Why would that please them? What if the Gods prefer a man to prove himself by taking caring of the gifts they give him?”
“What gifts?!” He demanded incredulously.
“The most precious ones of all, your family...”
The dreamer bit his lip and realized that even though his older brother was only 2 years his senior, he already had three children that loved him as if he was their own personal God.
“So... what do you suppose the Gods want me to do now?”
Grandpa smiled. “I'm certain that if you keep your eyes open, they'll make their will known to you...”
Nodding, he watched his grandfather leave the room. Eventually his attention returned to his window. He saw the mountain flash brilliantly as if trying to tell him something.
Noise from the kitchen alerted him to the fact that his sister-in-law's best friend had come for a visit. The two women screeched and carried on as if they hadn't seen each other in a thousand years. It annoyed him until he realized that the lights had flashed at the exact moment she had arrived.
His blood suddenly felt filled with ice. He clutched his heart and couldn't breathe. Panic made him want to run as far as he possibly could, perhaps all the way to the top of the mountain.
As if pulled by an invisible string, he slowly made his way to the kitchen. He watched the beautiful woman from the relative safety of the hallway. Her voice filled him with a hope he couldn't remember feeling in a long time.
She shivered lightly and murmured something about being watched. Suddenly, she turned to look at him. A smile stretched her lips and he was lost!
Maybe... just maybe his grandpa had been right all along...