Friday, January 18, 2013

Because WE Are

Many years ago I found myself at a mountain retreat; not to vacation or take a break from life, but to make sense of life and find life again.  I had fallen asleep in “Pleasantville” and awakened sometime later in “The Twilight Zone” – or so it seemed.  In a last ditch effort to salvage marriage, life and sanity, I had agreed to attend a family week for my spouse at a recovery retreat.  As the week progressed, we ventured outdoors to face challenges and confront fears.  I was certain that no matter what our counselors presented for us, it would be a cake walk compared to what I had faced with the abusive addict that vaguely resembled my loving husband.  After the initial challenge near our living quarters, we were led out further into the woods.  As I walked along the dusty mountain trails, the crunching sound of fallen leaves reflected the crispness in the air.  It was a cool fall morning, yet the warmth of the sun washed over me like a fountain of hope brimming in the wilderness.  The mountains surrounded us like a cocoon.  I had found a safe place with this hodgepodge group of fellow survivors and our outdoor adventure was a welcomed diversion from the hours of classes, focus groups, therapy sessions and one-on-one meetings.  Carefully I took in the sights and sounds of the morning.  The flow of the river winding along the base of the hills was soothing to the soul; the panoramic view of the mountains against a dusty blue sky was intoxicating.   In a word the view was spectacular!  Golden leaves glistened in the fall sun.  Hues of red danced in and out of scattered evergreens.  Soon our guide paired us into teams of two.  It was time for our next challenge.  Each team was given a blindfold and one team member was chosen to wear the blindfold while the other one became the designated tour guide. I was “honored” with the title of “follower”.  Yes I was handed the blindfold!  It didn’t seem all that uncommon for me as I felt I had spent many years stumbling along in the dark.  My team partner and guide led me up and down hills and around steep curves. My heart was beating wildly and the air was smothering.  The adrenaline rush was exciting and made me feel more alive than I had felt in years.  I felt trees, brush, and God knows what reaching out in an effort to stop me from invading their sanctuary.  I sensed if I moved my feet an inch or more left or right I would experience a free fall down that mountainside.  Finally I was given the instruction to “stop!”  I had quickly learned on this mountain trek that it was to my greatest advantage to yield to the instructions of my teammate.  I put my feet in “park” and came to an abrupt halt.  I removed my blindfold to find myself inches from that fast running river.  In the space of one tiny hour I had re-learned what it meant to be “one” with another.  Something that had not been for quite sometime in my marriage.  Without my teammate I would’ve stumbled off a mountain cliff or lunged into a fast running river.  But “together” we came to a scene of unsurpassed beauty.  The river flowed swiftly at the base of the mountains, teasing them with its waves and splashing with delight.  The mountains in return looked down in amusement and pride much like a mother would her child upon his first experience of wading in the water.  It was a heavenly sight.

Today I read a story that reminded me of this mountain trek so many years ago.  The story told of an anthropologist and a group of native children in Africa.  The anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in tribe. First, he put a basket full of fruit near a tree, and then told the children that whoever arrived at the tree first would win the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, to his amazement they all took each others hands and ran together.  Once at the tree, they received their prize.  They then sat together enjoying their delicacies. When he asked them why they had run like that, explaining that one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: ''UBUNTU - how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?'' 'UBUNTU' in the Xhosa culture means: "I am because we are."  One could visit all the halls of learning and never hear such a knowledgeable or more profound statement.  No one in life could make it a day without someone beside them along the way. Try as we may to make it on our own, we all need each other.  And this is the way it should be.  “I am because we are.”