Rounding the Cape of Post Partum 7/14/2007
Climbing Everest is not just the two months one spends on the mountain; it is the 18 months prior and most likely the 18 months post. I went out on a bike ride this morning. The temperature was perfect and I couldn’t resist. It was the first time since returning from Everest that I had an urge to exercise. It was a signal that I was rounding the Cape of Post Partum and I was now ready to sail forward once again.
I haven’t written to you in nearly a month. It has felt strange since I spent much of the past three years spending some time each week sitting down to reflect on the week and share it with you. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to say; it’s just that I didn’t know how to say them. Life post Everest has been a struggle. Consciously not filling the void that training and preparing for Everest had left in my life, I fought to find meaning and engagement. Having spent 18 months with not much more than Everest in the front of my mind left a gaping hole in my day-to-day existence.
As I biked this morning, I had the image of fire in my mind. I thought of how fire consumes and purifies, of the phoenix rising from the ashes, and how disappointment is like a pile of cordwood. It is hard to burn a log on a smoldering fire. I came back from Everest with my inner fire dimmed and sputtering. It was tempting to throw lots of fuel on the fire immediately to get it burning bright once again but I had the sense that it needed to burn low for a while, with embers gently glowing against the dark night.
Now I have a sense that the fire is gaining strength once again, that it may be time to stoke the flames to new height to incinerate the cordwood of disappointment and transform it to the ash of possibility. I have been writing my book for a month now from six to eight am every weekday morning. This gentle discipline has provided a container for reflection and processing of the Everest experience. With each word that hits the page, I come to see the experience with more clarity as I clear the fog of high altitude from the forefront of my perception. As I prepare each presentation and reorder the images and change the focus of the narrative, I see new lessons and understanding. I nurture new appreciation for the experience despite the pain in gaining it.
Everest humbled me. I expected it to. Everest split me open along the midline like the finest surgeon. I expected that too. Everest’s snow and ice acted like a polished mirror reflecting my frailties and strength with frightening clarity. I can see now that it would be impossible to return from such an intense experience with grace and ease. The mess of emotions that I have been untangling were inevitable and impossible to sidestep. Like most crevasses on the Khumbu, this passage required the patience and wisdom to know when to proceed and when to wait, when to step over carefully and when to leap, when to stay silent and when to share.
I want to return to Everest. There are things I know the mountain still has to teach me. My goal is to retire the debt from the first expedition and then begin sorting how to fund a second attempt. I’m waiting patiently for the way forward to unfold and the invitation to my next adventure to arrive. In the meantime, I’m teaching this summer, walking the Tely Ten, renovating the house, and generally keeping out of trouble. I hope you are doing well-do drop me a line to let me know how things are going.