By Sharon M. Kennedy
“Climb the mountain,” the hiking instructor yelled, and I thought to myself, it’s only a steep hill, but I kept quiet. Let the young fellow call it a mountain and encourage us to climb as if it were Everest. The year was 2001. While waiting for my directed study to begin in June, I was taking a hiking class at Northern Michigan University. The class was in May and lasted four weeks. I looked forward to it with all the enthusiasm of a youngster. The scenery was beautiful, the black flies were still sleeping, and the weather cooperated with sunshine and a minimum of rain.
The instructor yelled again, “Climb the mountain.” I don’t remember which hiking trail we had taken. It might have been one on Presque Isle, North Country, or Greenways. It was up to each student to choose an area to their liking so some trails were more treacherous than others. As I wasn’t too familiar with Marquette, I’m sure I picked one with a minimum of cliffs, rocks, and streams. I was 54 years old and as agile as the teenagers around me, but I kept that secret to myself. There was no point in announcing my physical dexterity and taking all the fun out of our hiking expeditions.
I walked directly behind the instructor—I’ll call him Bob—and I heard the pretty girls giggling behind me. Unlike the others, I walked with ski poles for better balance and stability. As the climb got steeper, I would occasionally tap Bob with the tip of a pole and ask for his hand. He was a good-natured fellow and always obliged.
When we stopped to rest, I joined the girls. I told them one good thing about being the oldest student in the class was that I could ask for help whenever the going got rough, something they couldn’t or wouldn’t do because they were young and robust. They had to prove they could climb without assistance. I was old and robust, but I didn’t tell them. I let them think I needed my hand held by the handsome instructor.
Sometimes we do need our hand held when going through life’s rough patches. It’s always nice to know there’s someone willing to step forward and help us climb whatever mountain we’re facing. Over the years, however, I’ve learned if we don’t have anyone to assist us we can do it on our own. It may be a little harder and it may take a little longer, but we can find the resolve within ourselves and discover how strong we are. Self-confidence and independence will come with that discovery.
The more mountains we climb, the stronger we become. Without a steady parade of friends, neighbors, or relatives, we’re forced to look inwardly for the tenacity required to meet and overcome the challenges of daily living. When we feel we’ve lost the energy to take one more step, we have to remind ourselves that we’ve climbed lots of mountains throughout the years, and we can climb one more. That’s the wonderful thing about growing old. The more we experience life and all its pitfalls, the easier it becomes to distinguish between really serious problems and the little blimps that cloud our radar.
The catastrophe of an empty sugar bowl doesn’t seem as important to me as it once did. I used to be fanatical about keeping my salt and pepper shakers filled to the rim, likewise the sugar bowl and butter dish. I had so many kitchen rules my husband and daughter treaded cautiously when approaching the cupboards or refrigerator. Years ago I posted a list above the sink reminding them to wipe the counter clean of crumbs, rinse their dishes, and put the lids back on any condiments they had used. We’ve all seen those good luck kitchen witches, right? Although I didn’t hang on the wall, I’m sure in the eyes of my family I was on a par with those ladies until I realized I was making a mountain out of nothing.
Well anyway, soon March will turn to April and April will give way to May. As the weather warms, my thoughts will turn to outdoor activities. In another week, I’ll lace up my hiking boots and take to the road. I miss the hiking trails in Marquette and those in Caherdaniel along the southwest coast of Ireland where I vacationed for three weeks in 2019. I’ll have to settle for a large hill about a half mile from my home. Sometimes when I scale that hill, I remember the spring of my hiking class and how much I enjoyed it and the pleasant company of the young girls and helpful instructor.
I hope each person has continued to climb the mountains they’ve faced in the ensuing years. Some folks might have needed ski poles to assist them when the terrain was rocky and unpredictable, but I hope they put up a valiant effort and kept walking forward. At any age, we may need to hear the encouraging words of that delightful hiking instructor.
“Climb the mountain,” he said. And it’s my belief, if taken a step at a time, it isn’t all that difficult.