I am mid-hike, halfway up an elevation of a thankfully unknown number of feet.
I am standing on the one bit of rock I can balance upon without slipping, while water rushes at and around me. There are six waterfalls behind me, four ahead of me.
No way through it but through it, I think.
My youngest son is on the rocks about 20 feet above me, with our guide. My eldest son is trying to clamber up a rope in the middle of a waterfall to make the same rock ledge. I await my turn.
As I look back from whence we’ve come, the sun peeks through the rainforest canopy ever so slightly. I am, literally, sunbathed. I hear macaws in the trees and spot a poison dart tree frog. And it hits me—how far we’ve come.
It occurs to me that this hike, with all of its ups and downs, is a metaphor for our lives of the past two years.
It’s my turn. As I enter the waist-deep water, grab the wet rope and try for my first foothold on the rocks, I slip, plunging back into the deeper water below. It’s a failed first attempt.
As I enter the office of a financial wizard, I see his mouth moving and I know he is speaking words in a language I should understand. But I cannot concentrate. His talk of retirement, mortgage, taxes is too much too soon. How will I afford mortgage, tuition and all the myriad expenses that come with raising a family? But how can I not? This is the house my boys came home to as babies. The one piece of stability we’ve had. Our sanctuary. I end the meeting telling him I’ve got to think about where these funds can come from—and if my monthly income can support us. It’s a failed first attempt.
I grab the rope again, this time bracing myself against the rocks with both feet. Which puts me in a precarious position, but it seems the only way up. I move my hands up the rope, knowing I’ll need all of my upper body strength to shimmy up a few feet for the next foothold.
I call Mr. Wizard and tell him to ready the papers. He asks if I’m sure, as he hears the hesitancy in my voice. Yes, I tell him, I’m sure. Which puts me in a precarious position, but it seems the only way forward. I call some former colleagues and let them know I need to take on extra work. I’m looking for the next foothold.
I am heaving myself upward, slowly and painfully, arms shaking. Why didn’t I focus on biceps more at the gym, I wonder. And then I realize, I’ve got to sway the rope back and forth to create enough momentum to get to the foothold, a few feet away. And so the dance begins, back and forth.
I’m working three jobs. I work from the moment I get up until my weary self falls into bed just before midnight. I take breaks to eat with my kids and catch up on their days. I’m doing it, I think. And then I realize the pace is not sustainable. I need to get us to a plateau where we can just be for a bit. And so the dance begins, back and forth.
I reach the foothold with the help of Oscar, our guide. He has grabbed the rope from up top, allowing me to get my footing again. I look up and smile, briefly. He says, “Come on, mama.” And I head toward his words.
I am tired. Cranky. Lonely. Ready to cry. And then my doorbell rings. Two neighbors and friends, with a basket of love. All the fixings for cocktails, wine, goodies, a good long tub soak and some bling for when I’m finally ready to paint the town again. My doorbell rings again. It is a friend with dinner. Again. A friend with a prayer shawl for me. Again. A friend who wants a walk and coffee. “Come on, mama. You can do this,” they say. I head toward their words.
Just as I am about to reach the edge of the ledge, a swarm of bees appears. Buzzing angrily, I debate whether to swat at them, which means letting go of the rope and possibly falling, or to ignore them and risk being stung during my climb. I choose the latter, knowing I need all my energy for the last bit of my climb.
I am starting to feel a rhythm, still working a lot but also spending a bit more time with my kids. Figuring out the maze of monthly bills and household responsibilities (Why did I not pay attention to my father’s furnace filter changing lesson?). And just when I feel the calm is starting to seep in, helpful “friends” want to tell me what the moms at school are saying about the divorce, about a change in my child’s behavior, about how I am not meeting my obligation to show up for their two-hour-long committee meetings. I have a choice, to respond in anger or ignore them and know the buzzing will continue. I choose the latter, knowing that saving my energy for moving my family forward rather than two-hour-long committee meetings is the wise route. I tell my “friends” I have no interest in idle gossip and move on.
Triumphant, even though I’m lying on my stomach in the middle of rushing water. I am up the toughest waterfall and have mastered the worst of the climb, or so my guide tells me. And he promises all three of us that if we soldier on, fresh pineapple awaits us at the top. He makes good on this promise half an hour later, as he slices open the best-tasting piᾖa I’ve ever had. As I take my first bite, I realize many adventures are still to come. I wonder if I’m up to them and then realize I’m at least one step closer to being up for them, having mastered this one.
Which is when he says, “Who wants to taste a live termite?”
And I raise my hand.