We had been climbing for at least two hours. And I don’t mean just leisurely walking uphill…this was the kind of “hike” that leaves you huffing and puffing and counting steps. Our directions told us we should almost be at the top, but there was not even a hint of blue sky anywhere around. My legs screamed and my lungs groaned.
“Should we stop for lunch?” My friend asked. Really, the question we were all wanting to ask was, “Will this ever freaking end?”
“No,” I said. “We should be there soon, right? Let’s just keep going and have lunch at the top.”
My friends slowed down to eat huckleberries along the dirt path. I pressed on, determined to bring a swift end to this torture. Not fifteen minutes down the path, though, I heard the crunching leaves that indicated some other insane person had also decided this would be an enjoyable weekend pastime. I saw two women approach…surely those goofy grins were masking their exhaustion and sheer fatigue.
“How much further?” I asked. Just around this bend. Please say it is just around this bend.
“Um, what time did you start?”
Not the response I was hoping for. Inward groan.
“About three hours ago, I think.”
“Probably about another two hours then. It’s really worth it!”
I thanked them, even as my inner groan turned into inner weeping. Two more hours?! I was already thinking about rhabdomyolysis, a diagnosis I had learned about in nursing school. What more would it take for my muscles to just explode?
We had a decision to make.
Have you ever reached the end of yourself? Found yourself asking if you could survive, wake up another day? There have been few times in my life when I have seriously asked those questions. One was on a mountain a couple months ago. (Truly. Call me a pansy or whatever will make you feel better about yourself, but it. was. real. Ha!).
One was the day I found out my dad was dying.
There are so many details about that day that will remain forever etched in my brain. It’s almost like everything slowed to a crawl, just so I could watch a terrible tsunami swallow me whole.
That day, standing in my dorm room listening to my mom recount over the phone the details of a scourge eating my dad’s pancreas, I knew I had a choice.
That day, standing on the side of that mountain with two even more excruciating hours of climbing ahead of me, I knew I had a choice.
One step forward? Or do I sit down and end it all?
Sometimes gratitude looks like putting one foot on the ground in front of you and thanking God you are still standing. Sometimes, gratitude sounds less like a nicety and more like a plea for strength, grace, or whatever it is that will get you through another day.
Sometimes gratitude is a groan, a guttural cry that acknowledges you are still here, still alive and breathing oxygen on this tired planet.
Today, a week before the national holiday that will no doubt be consumed with food and family and “thankful” exercises we only practice once a year, I want you to know something: If all you can muster this year is a groan, a plea, a cry for help…that is enough. Choosing to put one foot on the ground in front of you? I think there is a special kind of gratitude in that courageous decision. A gratitude that says, “I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And one day I will remember to celebrate even this one step.”
We did reach the top of that mountain.
(I couldn’t walk for four days).
My dad did succumb to that silent killer.
(And I still miss him every day).
I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And today I celebrate the groans and single steps and I-guess-let’s-keep-goings that brought me to today.
Keep breathing, my friend. To do so is a fierce resistance, the deepest and truest form of gratitude.