There was once a wise man who sought the challenge and adventure of mountain climbing. All across the world, he’d travel and climb. From Denali, Alaska to Everest and K2, he’d climbed them all and lived to tell the tales of awe-inspiring beauty and danger, most intense. Those years were long behind him, but the wisdom he’d gained endured, and his memory was as sharp as any blade.
One day while leaving the grocery store, he saw a man, sitting on the curb, with his face covered. His back was rising and falling with the abruptness of one who was crying. The wise man walked over to the man sitting on the curb.
“What is the matter friend, why are you crying on such a beautiful day?” He asked with genuine concern in his voice.
The young man looked up from his arms, where his face had been buried. His eyes red like the stripes on our flag.
“I just don’t know what to do. I’m always fucking things up, my wife is divorcing me, my family won’t talk to me. I’m trying so hard to be a decent person, but none of it works and now I can’t even afford to buy my son food.” The young man began sobbing again.
“Friend, I’ll tell you- those are some heavy problems. No wonder you’re in despair, but if I may, I’ve lived awhile and I might have something to brighten your day.”
As the wise man sat, he looked closer at the young man’s jacket, where he saw patches and military insignia adorning the sleeves and lapels.
“See, I used to climb mountains, and although they were treacherous, there was a certain beauty to take in as well, as long as you followed the rules,” said the old man as his gaze wandered off to the time of his youth. “Sometimes there were great big storms that threatened the climb, and many a time I thought I’d surely die, nevertheless, we set up camp and huddled for warmth in our tents. We rehydrated, took a load off of our legs and set our pack down for a while.”
The young man looked up. His life was certainly a treacherous storm right now and he felt there was no way to get through the punishing onslaught he was enduring. The wise man looked over and met the young man’s eyes.
“See, if I’d have kept fighting that storm, I would have surely died. Despite all my wit and strength, I was no match for the wind and the snow, the dangerous blizzards that would overtake the mountain. There were times I couldn’t see my hand 6 inches in front of my face. To have continued my journey would have been a fool’s errand.”
The young man put his head back down, knowing all too well the feeling of fighting with everything he had, only to end up in more peril.
“But,” the wise man continued, “after a while, the storm would pass and I would resume my climb.”
The young man looked up and the tears in his eyes seemed to fall a little slower. His breathing eased and he cracked a smile.
“Young man, I know that you feel like you’re in this deep dark hole right now, but you’re not. You’re on a mountain, and the peak is greatness. Right now there is a storm in your path and it’s doing it’s best to prevent you from reaching your potential. But take some advice from an old mountaineer, forgive yourself. Take a break from fighting and take care of yourself. The “weather” in your life will clear in time, as do all things. Once it does, you can resume your journey to the summit. You’ve started a journey, and even though I don’t know you, I’d like to see you finish it.”
“Thank you,” said the young man as he wiped away the last of his tears.
The wise man stood up and rolled up his sleeve, revealing a 10th Mountain division tattoo. He cracked a smile and patted the young man on his back.
As he walked to his car, the young man put his hand down to brace himself as he stood. Instead of pavement, he felt three crisp $20 bills where the old wise man had been sitting. Once again tears touched his cheeks, but they were different from the ones before.