A dear friend gifted me a couple kayaks recently.
One was a large yellow ocean behemoth that requires two brawny handler-paddlers, so I left that one leaning against the shed and lifted up the sporty little red model.
Placing it on its two-wheeled axel-pulley-thingy, I felt bold and adventurous as I tugged it down my street to the lake.
The launch was sandy but uneventful, and soon I found myself in the middle of the water looking around at a totally different landscape.
The lake that I had been driving around, walking around, running, biking, praying around for the past year did not appear, from my kayak perch, to be even the same lake.
Houses that, from the road, seemed small and perhaps a bit dingy, looked inviting and friendly with their shorelines crowded with raft floats and deck chairs and fire pits.
The road hugging the lake seemed straight where I remembered it twisty and twisty where I imagined it straight. This optical illusion, I discovered, was caused mainly by the many rivulets and inlets that studded the lake that one could not see from the road-looking-out.
The more I nosed the elegant little vessel around, the more surprising the view became until I finally coasted into a sea of lily pads to think.
It was all about perspective.
I realized that sometimes we can look and look and look upon a thing, sometimes for years, and never really see it for what it is, or even in its entirety.
Perhaps this is a gift of another sort, a kindness God bestows, because if we were ever to see our lives – the blessings and trials, summits and sufferings – unveiled all at once, I don’t imagine any of us would be able to bear up under the force of it all.
The small peeks and partial gazes we get of harvest and famine help us to maintain our focus on the One who can sustain us, through all that messy plenty and drought.
Speaking of summits, I’ve had an experiment in my head the past few months that I thought might be able to teach me more about this idea of perspective.
I’ve decided to climb a nearby mountain, Mt. Cardigan, once a month for the next twelve months and try to see how and where and why my perspective might change each time I go.
At 3,155 feet, Mt. Cardigan is not particularly grand on the scale of, say, a Mt. Washington or even one of the lesser Presidentials, but it holds a place in my heart that is perhaps dearer than any other New Hampshire peak.
Cardigan is the namesake of the place I live and work, eat and dream, laugh with friends and daily attempt to instill stillness into always-active, mostly-mischievous middle school boys.
Cardigan is the namesake of the school that shaped my own three boys into someone’s quite nearly resembling men.
It is one of the few mountains my son, the one in heaven, agreed to climb on multiple occasions with his classmates and friends, a school tradition of new students watching the sun rise and soon-to-be-graduates, its set.
This was the same boy who, at the age of eight, standing with his mother and sibs on the flank of Mt. Monadnock with only a rock-scramble standing between him and the pinnacle, declared, “I’ll just sit here with the lunches until you guys get back, Mom.”
I laugh now, remembering.
I can see Cardigan’s granite crest from most places on campus, can watch the trees that skirt the ridge color and fall, glimpse the first white crown descend like a halo when the snow spills.
It’s a peak that requires very little in the way of athleticism or ability to reach the fire tower on its bare summit slabs; I’ve seen toddlers in flip-flops, out-of-shape middle-agers in blue jeans, puppies, and scores of other unlikely hikers all happily pulling themselves up Cardigan’s pitch. Resolve is really all it takes to walk the 1.5 miles from trailhead to top.
Sometimes the climb up a mountain is an embrace, but time was short the summer-waning day I chose to look afresh at the mountain I loved, so August’s inaugural ascent was more of an assault.
The parking lot was full and woods busily traffic’d as I trotted up the trail, making the summit in a respectable 38 minutes, stopping only to take photos of the one waterfall en route, barely flowing, and the many people crawling around above treeline.
It was windy at the top.
I snapped a photo of the bracelet I wear as a reminder that my son was loved, that I can carry him with me until we see each other again.
On the car ride up to the trailhead, I had been sad and burdened by many things, but as I looked below to where Cardigan School sat spooning in the valley, I could only see myself as highly blessed: I am employed, I live in a wildly beautiful place, and my feet still take me where I want to go.
The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to the church at Corinth cataloguing the many brutalities he had suffered for the simple crime of telling people about Jesus. His perspective is one which leaves little room for capitulation:
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
I suppose if Paul can call being stoned, ship-wrecked, and beaten with rods small, then we can continue to find the strength to fight through our own present troubles.
I sometimes wish I had known in advance that my son was going to die, or my marriage. How this knowledge might have changed the way I lived, loved, only God knows.
Sometimes I’m mad that He didn’t intervene.
What I do know, however, is that one day, as we continue to gaze upon things eternal, our perspective of everything we can see now will be a glory so vast it will take our collective breaths away.
I paused for a moment away from the crowds, then jogged back down the way I had come. The whole enterprise took an hour and eleven minutes.
I wonder what I’ll see in September?