|The mountain reveals itself! After hours in the mist, Mt. Lafayette calls us to our chapel in the sky.|
The decision is go!
Really, it wasn’t that difficult a choice to go for the summit.
For most of the last hour, my team struggled through some hiker injuries and a deepening fog that had socked in the mountain. Meanwhile, Team 1 had attained Greenleaf Hut, had refreshed their water, used the bathroom, taken pictures and basically were waiting up there to make fun of how slow were were! In other words, they were refreshed and willing to go, regardless of the weather.
Some background: Before the hike, Meenakshi and I had talked in detail about what, exactly, we wanted this ceremony to be. We both agreed that regardless of how the Wedding Party was feeling, we wanted views and a pretty setting for the ceremony. That meant if the summit was socked in, even if people wanted to go for it, we’d have the ceremony at the hut – which is also a beautiful location.
Well, as my team finally made the push out of the trees and the hut came into view, the summit was no where to be seen. We stumbled in, a bit tired and damp, but happy to be there, and I began the process of evaluating how everyone was feeling.
That was the easy part, as these 17 wonderful people who had accompanied us thus far, were energized, in good spirits and willing to hike through hell itself to get to the summit.
Then something happened. As I was pouring myself a cup of tea, trying to figure out if we’d have the ceremony in the hut or outside it, I heard someone outside shout, “Look at that!”
There seemed to be a general stampede of people out the door and I followed.
You remember that scene in The Holy Grail where the knights are tramping through the dreary English countryside, and suddenly the clouds part like doors and sun shines down and there’s cartoon God with a quest. Yeah, that happened, only instead of God, the summit revealed itself in a 30 second roar of wind. That mountain literally went from socked in to completely blue bird sky open in minutes.
People just stood there watching. If that was not an invitation I did not know what was.
The path was clear. I had one last order of business. A couple of our hikers had been feeling tired, or had some other issues. I asked each of them how they felt – but there was no hesitation, no self-pity, no question. Everyone to a person said Let’s Go! Let’s do this!
We were going to go for it. In fact, even as I asked around, The Farmer and a few others from Team 1, had already moved to the trail. I hustled back into the hut and grabbed my pack, and strapped a wind breaker to the outside, figuring at some point up there I was going to need it. Then, I quickly did a head count to make sure everyone was either already in front of me, or heading up.
Then, at around noon, on Sept. 4, 2010, I set my feet on the one mile of open trail that would lead to our wedding chapel in the sky.
I took my time on the climb. I knew there were those ahead of us that would reach the summit long before me, but the weather was good, clouds were high and I didn’t want to push anyone beyond their comfort level.
The trail up to the summit is moderate by White Mountain standards, but it is exposed and Deepti was still having some ankle issues. She forged ahead though, slow but steady, and everyone was proud of her effort!
Team members hop-scotched each other on the way up, and I was happy to see they were having fun, stopping now and again to just turn around and absorb the views. Willoughby Notch in Vermont to our north. The Adirondacks to our west. The views that day were enormous, overwhelming. Folks stopped and gazed, and I with them.
Ralph and Kevin and Jeff joked about my getting cold feet, and blocked the path behind me in case I wanted to make a break for it. Everyone had a camera and everyone seemed to relish the climb as significant, as having meaning.
Reaching any summit is a worthy goal, a task that requires patience, discipline and caution. The rewards, even in the worst of conditions, even after a struggle, are always great. But that day was epic. That final mile, surrounded by my friends, knowing that Meenakshi waited for me at the top, was empowering, was holy.
I felt no pain or discomfort. I smiled so hard that day my face hurt later. The wind blew and I let it.
I felt joy.
About a 100 feet from the summit, Marianne went on ahead with Deepti and my two dear friends Peter and Alan waited to accompany me to the top.
And then, there we were. We had made it, all of us gathered in the foundation of the old Lafayette Carriage House. We stood on the ground where so many before us had stood, and slept, and reached their own summit and their own dreams. We were connected with history and we were moving into the future.
Finally, at around 1:30 p.m., along with dozens of onlookers who will no doubt have stories to tell for years to come, our closest family and friends gathered in a half circle around us. Meenakshi wore a crown of wild flowers picked and fashioned by Jennifer. And I wore a Nepali Topi, a formal hat given to me by Meenakshi’s father. Our dress was hiking casual!
The ceremony was short, in the Quaker style of allowing those gathered to reflect on their own loved ones, on their own relationships and future. There was a passage by Anne Morrow Lindbergh I wanted to read, but alas, I forgot to bring it with me. Embarrassed, I did my best to paraphrase, and that seemed to go ok.
But for those curious, here is the passage:
When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.
The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.
We had entrusted Marianne to bring the rings to the top, and after we exchanged them, the final moment came, and I was able to kiss my bride on that mountain, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and it was done.
It had taken us months (hell, years) to come to this place. And now, as Meenakshi and I hugged every one of those people who accompanied us on this journey, it was time to move forward. We had a mountain to leave behind us. We had another great gathering to prepare for tomorrow. We had our lives unfurling before us, as long and promising as the view from our mountain chapel…. (to be continued)