We take to the mountains because something is different up there. The air is crisp, civilization slogs and slaves below you, and you’re theoretically closer to whatever higher power you subscribe to. However, this feeling proved elusive a few weeks ago.
We awoke early, 2:30 to be exact. My roommate and I drove to meet a few members of his church group. We piled into a sturdy SUV and headed for Grey’s Peak, one of the “14ers” so many Coloradans covet. I gradually awakened as the 1994 Toyota Landcruiser groaned with each elevation increase.
We hit the trail at dawn. The group fell into a rhythm and eventually broke into smaller clusters. I began walking with one of the faster group members. Quickly, I was swept up by his desire to reach the top. Soon a great distance between us and the larger group formed.
At first glance, it seemed advantageous to be ahead pushing the pace. We felt good that we were likely to have ample time to summit not just Grey’s Peak, but Torrey’s as well.
At last, we reached the top and took a breather. The view was expansive and would have been breathtaking in most circumstances. However, I couldn’t forget the choice we made to break from the group. A choice that undoubtedly was beneficial in regards to the goal of making both summits before the notorious afternoon storms and murderous lightning bolts emerged. Still, something felt missing.
What had I sacrificed in pursuit of this goal? Why did this feel different that the majesty and freedom I have felt atop much more modest peaks?
I had missed nature’s subtleties. I hadn’t stopped to feel the cool mountain air on my skin and hadn’t gathered the fresh smell of alpine trees in my nose. I hadn’t stopped to fear escalating winds or even to ponder how much longer we had to go.
Reaching a goal does not guarantee satisfaction. Perhaps the feeling of satisfaction is simple sum of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations experienced in pursuit of that goal. If the only experience is dogged persistence and focus, the achievement is empty.
This phenomenon does not just occur atop mountains. Recently, a social experiment was staged in a DC metro station. A world-renowned violinist volunteered to play a free set littered with beautiful, albeit somewhat obscure, compositions in the middle of a busy station. Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post noted that, “Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100.”¹ The entertainment value of this man’s work was not a question.
Despite this, Bell was shocked to watch as, “1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work…”.¹ However, a segment of the population noted Bell’s brilliance. Weingarten noted that, “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”¹ Somewhere along the way these adults became blind to beauty.
After being informed of what they had missed, many pedestrians asked when he would be playing again. They were informed that this was a one-time experience.
Fortunately, we had a descent to look forward to. I saw what I had missed. The flowers, the green hillsides, the blue skies, the radiant sunshine. Unfortunately, life does not always offer us simple redemption.
“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Perhaps the path matters more than the goal itself. We must remain aware or our great capacity to become blind to a rich and varied world.
¹Weingarten, Gene. “Pearls Before Breakfast.” Washington Post 8 April 2007: <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html>