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Her journey began before she even knew she’d arrived.
“Do you see that, way up there?” Daddy asked little Denali, his finger pointing westward. “One day you will summit that mountain.”
She didn’t even need to look to know what he was referring to. In the distance, rising above the wall of rock in the west was a single peak that towered above the rest. Blank spaces surrounded her in all directions but one. Where plains were plain and expanses were senseless, she saw a range, a hope, a dream.
The sun rose every morning in the east and every day it would make its treck across the sky to the west. The bright ball of light set behind the same mountain every time. Each time it arrived at its destination, the sky lit with color—a vibrant celebration of a job well done. What was it about that beautiful occurrence of day that inspired her heart to journey with the sun? That beautiful light could do what she had never thought to imagine. It began something. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it was certainly something beautiful, something meaningful. It beckoned her to follow. It anticipated purpose, anticipation, and delight. With its great light, it brought radiant life. She wanted the same, in every way.
Years passed, and the looming still west pulled her. It pried for her attention; it demanded her intent. As she neared the wall that rose higher and higher with each timid step, she set her sight on the tallest one—the highest peak she could see. Her journey began, though she did not know it yet. The time had come. She would reach the summit.
Soon she found that she was not the only one. Many had joined her on this quest of a lifetime. Their stories inspired her, and she hoped that hers helped them in turn. They traveled together, and soon they would part . Each person's paths leading different ways, yet they often intersected. They journey to the summit together.
Soon they could no longer see the place where they had set their eyes. The world might have thought they were crazy. They were in fact though, weren’t they? They must have been absolutely crazy to be aiming for the summit, to be reaching for the top. Like wishing on a star or trying to touch the clouds, their goals seemed too much to grasp. But no, this was their quest. This was their dream. This was her dream.
Looking back she could see progress, but she could no longer see the dream. The higher she went, the more difficult the terrain became and the more she wished she could envision her goal. The rocks were sharper, the incline was steeper, and the weather awfully bipolar in all sorts of extremes.
Still, she pressed on, treasuring the precious moments. They all did. They still do. The world was now so far below; it was too late to turn back. They were sore. Their muscles ached. They would make it to the top. These are the stories they would tell someday. These were their moments to keep forever. The sun still made its journey across the sky. It continued to cast shadows, but even the shadows inspired her steps. They reminded her that the sun was still there. It reminded me of where she was going—of why she was going.
Now she sees something up ahead. In the blink of an eye, she has arrived. She reached the top—her mountain, the summit. She has reached the sun’s destination—its final resting place.
But no. She looks behind, and as she tries to look below, clouds block her view. She cannot see the bottom or where she came from. She realizes now that she cannot go back. This cannot be all there is? Is it? What of the sun’s inspiration that led her to follow? Would it lead her here for nothing—take her from the comfort of the plains below to a place she does not know or feel prepared to face?
Her heart settles into the thought that she will never go back down the way she came. Peace slowly comes. The summit cannot be undone; it cannot be reversed. Her feet will never tread those same paths, her arms will never grace those branches, and even if she could go back, her eyes will never see this place the same again. The journey has shaped her. In memory she may return, but in terms of reality, she never will again.
She turns around to face forward again only to see that the sun still stretches across the sky above her. It continues beyond where her feet are planted. Is this not the end? Her head swirls with questions. Where has the sun been calling her to go if not here? If she cannot return the way I came from, where does she go from here?
There in the silence of life—in the eve of monumental and now meaningless achievement—her disappointed eyes shift to watching the sky turn alight again. The sunset has the same effect of awe that it had when she was on the flat ground below, but this time she sees something more, something so much more. The light illuminates the crevices—the highs and lows—and for the first time ever, she sees an entire range. It is wide, covering the expanse; it is deep, more so than she can see; and it is beautiful, more breathtaking than her mountain’s summit was before.
She looks to the mountain range before her filled with peaks and valleys. Her mind spins with the thought of what lies on the other side. The sun still calls her to follow. Excitement fills her bones, and she realizes the peak is not the end. Her dad had been right. She had summited her mountain. But the summit was just the beginning. She’d journeyed all of her life, and all of life is still before her.
Gain perspective, lose perspective—journey through valleys and peaks alike—but it will be a journey. It has always been a journey. And it was never just about the summit. It was about so much more.