I feel as dark and dry as the desert tents
of the wandering nomads. ~Song of Songs 1:5
This past week, I finally climbed the slide of North Tripyramid.
The North Slide is not exactly a trail per se, but a jagged, rocky scar slashed into the forested flank of North Tri. It’s one mile of living hell that has earned a spot on the “Terrifying 25,” a list of the 25 most challenging hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. (I’ve done 11 of these so far, most unwittingly.)
I had attempted this “trail” a few years back but was forced to retreat when the slanted slabs became too, well, terrifying. I didn’t feel capable of that route, that day, and choose to backtrack and climb the mountain by a longer, safer route.
It had taken me years and hundreds of peaks to gain the courage to attempt the North Slide again.
Buzzing up the wooded approach trail, I felt happy. Confident. Only a little scared.
Knowing there were going to be some tricky spots, I would take my time and get to the top in one piece.
The weather could not have been more New-England-perfect; sun beat down and cool breeze blew as I grasped branches, found foot cracks and finger holds, puzzling out the route inch by slow glorious inch.
Half way up, my son called. With all four of my appendages gripping granite at the time, the phone rang and rang and rang, the only time on the slide I felt a little rattled. I was in a position where I couldn’t even pull out my phone.
Later, I did manage a few photos; the wide open nature of the slide provides some of the sweetest views in Waterville Valley.
The last one I snapped on the slide, looking down the great gully, can only be described as prophetic.
My left foot is out of the picture, otherwise occupied in keeping me from tumbling down a scree field.
Pretty soon it would out of the picture for a long while.
I knew from previous ascents that the summit of North Tri is but a muddy clearing, nothing much to see, so I lingered the last hundred yards of terror, enjoying the pure joy of being-fully-alive, until the slide disappeared into the security of the pines.
I hustled over to Middle Tri and back, then headed down the longsafe way as light began to wane.
And isn’t this when disaster always overtakes us? Least expecting, we are almost comically surprised when the badthing happens.
Jogging along the long dirt access road back to my car, my left ankle just decided to bow, pitching my entire weight onto lone left thumb.
In an instant, still two miles from the parking lot, I was stuck.
All that hard fought joy leached out of me as I struggled back up and took tentative step.
Could I take one more? And another and another? As I told the ER doc later when he asked, what choice did I have? Yes, I had just passed a group also coming down, but I couldn’t possibly wait for them, ask them for help, could I? Hadtheyseenme? How embarrassing. I whimpered my way back to the car.
It would be the first of many helps, either offered or inferred, that I would reject in the coming days. Turns out, I’m not very good at asking for help.
I don’t want people to make my life easier for me; I just want to endure the hard thing quietly and get on with it. To deny independence is to admit weakness, and let’s face it: there are some hurts that can’t be quelled.
Later that week in Chapel, I read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together…But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster.
I look down and hardly recognize my own limb. The fattened, blackened foot at the end of my leg is a monster, a monster that has taken over all the other parts, demanding deference and complete submission.
Hip? Too bad that you don’t like the skewed angle by which you are forced to hang. Thumb? Sorry that you’re broken too, but try to keep up. Those crutches aren’t going to move themselves.
Smug, self-important appendage tyrant.
Our body, Paul says, is a model for understanding how our lives function as a church (or community): every part is dependent on every other part. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
Okay, God, is that what you need me to learn?
To be willing to allow others to bless the broken parts of me, to open door or carry plate? To invite them into the hurt, rather than push them away?
Who but a monster would reject help rather than embrace it?
Like putting on pants with my leg in a boot, this is hard work. But if my weakness empowers others, allows them to function as Hand or Foot, does this not strengthen the whole body?
And haven’t you promised you’re always alongside? The perfect helper?
Psalm 59 says,
My strength is found when I wait upon you. Watch over me, God, for you are my mountain fortress (O, mountains! How I miss you already!); you set me on high.
I like to be up high.
So this is a promise I will tuck in my heart.
I don’t want to be a monster.