As a young man growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago, I jumped at a chance to get away from the sterile suburban life for an adventure climbing the highest peaks in Wyoming’s Jim Bridger National Park. My intuition proved me right in that 3 days into the trip I was standng at the pinnacle of the highest peak in the range surveying the world around me and soaring in my spirit like never before. The experience moved me. It changed me. The vista of the exterior horizons expanded my interior horizons. I felt like I was closer to God in that natural setting on top of the world.
I love mountaintops. Physical as well as psychological and spiritual. That is why coming back from that summer trip and living in the glow of that moment, I found out that the mountaintops are great, but it’s how you come down and what you bring back with you into the valley that counts.
Later that winter, as the effects of the real world began to weigh on me again following that experience, I attended a teen retreat at my local parish. There I experienced another mountaintop. I climbed the mountain of community and reconcilliation and basked in the glow of the horizon of God’s grace. It was everybit a mountaintop like the physical one I had climbed a few months earlier. Coming back from that retreat, the afterglow faded over time. By mid winter, I was once again down in my valley, perhaps with a bit of depression setting in. Why was I so low. Why did God, who weeks earlier seemed so close, now seem so far away? What was I doing wrong. Why wasn’t I… me…my….
My mother, a very wise woman interupted my thoughts as I wallowed in my self pity. “What is the matter?” she inquired. I told her what I was feeling. She responded in a way I had not expected. I thought she may have sympathy and comfort me in my perceived pain. Instead, she said in a rather gruff and matter-of-fact manner, “Get your mind off yourself get off your rear end and go do something for someone else.”
The statement shocked me to be honest. Where was my due? Where was my sympathy? I was in the valley after all, and didn’t I deserve the mountaintop? But she did not stick around for me to respond. She planted the seed and left me to myself. After a few moments of self pity, I began to reason that mom had never steered me wrong before, so let’s see what I can do.
I cracked the curtain of my suburban home window to see that we had received quite a blanketing of snow that mid-winter day. I decided, OK, I’ll go shovel the drive. That’s doing something for someone (even though I’d probably have to do it any way). So that’s what I did. After about 45 minutes of that, I came to the end of the chore and noticed our elderly neighbor had not yet shoveled their drive. So I did it, without prompting or permission. Near the end of the job the old man opened his door and called to me with a large bill in his hand. He wanted to pay for my services. While it was no easy thing for me to turn down as a young man, I did. They probably needed the cash more than I, and you know what? Mom was right, I was feeling a little better.
Glancing down the street I noticed another neighbors drive not yet cleared. I ran with enthusiasm and threw my back into the task. Before long I had shoveled four of the neighbors drives with no pay, but a glowing heart, not on a mountaintop, but learning how to live in the valley below.
As I retired for the night, I was spent! I shared with my wise mother the lesson I had learned. While I like to climb to the top and view the vista of things below, the real mountaintop is inside me and those with whom I live in the valley. I climb to the top not by focusing on me and what I want so selfishly but by forgetting about myself, even spending myself for the sake of others. It’s how you bring the top of the mountain to the valley below.
Photo: Evgeni Dinev