I am 25 years old, a native of Phoenix, Arizona and have lived in the valley for twenty-one of those years. If you are at all familiar with the Phoenix area, you know that there are three popular mountains one can hike: South Mountain, Piestewa Peak, and Camelback. I have always loved and enjoyed hiking, but I had never hiked Camelback…until Sunday, July 5, 2009.
Camelback is known for being one of the most difficult and challenging hikes because of the steep slopes (steep enough to install railings to help haul yourself up if you’re not prepared for and experienced as a rock climber) and large rocks and boulders that comprise of the “path” one must climb to reach the top. On the other mountains I have hiked, the paths have been easier and the path has always been visible. On Camelback, there are times that this path is non-existent because you are climbing over rocks and the only guides are an occasional post and the people ahead of you climbing up or down, if you can see either of these through the rugged terrain.
Before setting out for this hike, I did not know how truly difficult it would be, but I made myself believe that I could and would make it to the top. While there were many times I thought that I might not make it and felt alone in my struggles, an occasional hiker would come along and offer a smile, a joke, encouragement, or comment on my Cubs hat that I was wearing. I saw people of all ages and levels of fitness going up and coming down the mountain. I saw other people struggling (many who were in excellent shape) to make it to the top and I saw many beaming as they leaped down the mountain with their accomplishment; I wanted to reach the top so I could share in that same sense of accomplishment.
When I reached the top, I sat and looked out at the glorious view of the Phoenix valley in the early morning sun. It is a beautiful sight to behold, but even more wonderful, were the lessons learned, the challenges overcome, and people encountered in order to make it to the top. Sometimes in life, the path is not clear, we are not sure where to go or what to do next, we are not sure how we will find the strength to prevail, or if we will ever see the finish of what we have started. But then God sends us each other as signs to point us in the right direction, to offer the encouragement needed, to help us find a break from the struggle with a smile and a laugh, and those to rejoice with when we have achieved our goals.
In life—especially in the discernment of our paths and choices—we all face uncertainty, challenges, and trials. We all long for deeper meaning and purpose, even if we choose not to acknowledge it. When life looks most dismal, the path is uncertain and cannot be seen, when things are most difficult, it is at these moments in life we have to remind ourselves that anything with real meaning and value is difficult to attain, achieve or experience. Take a look at love, relationships, helping others, the cross of Jesus: all require sacrifice. Sometimes to move forward on the path of life, we will have to push through and keep moving when everything in our being wants to give up. Sometimes we will have to leave something behind and make a sacrifice because the load we are carrying is too heavy to heave up that mountain of life.
In the end, all the sweat, toil, sacrifice, pain, doubt, etc. is worth every moment. When we make it to the top, when we finish the race, it’s not that we made it or finished it that matters; it’s all that we went through to get there that makes the difference. As cheesy as it may sound, Miley Cyrus says it quite well, “There’s always gonna be another mountain / I’m always gonna want to make it move / Always gonna be an uphill battle / Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose / Ain’t about how fast I get there / Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side / It’s the climb.”
When we reach the top of the great mountain of life, heaven (if you believe in heaven) is not the prize. And living according to rules, regulations, dogma, doctrine, or some other conceptualized ideal is not what will get you there. The prize is knowing that you lived your humanity to its fullest extent, that you lived life well and loved. You tried and failed, but did not give up. You built others up instead of tearing them down. You did not sink to a level below your humanity but prevailed against all odds and rose above by keeping sacred the best part about being human: love in the form that brings life.