In response to one of my essay posts, a reader responded: “I understand that without the valleys, we wouldn’t appreciate the mountaintops, but why are there more, and deeper valleys, and the mountaintop experiences are so fleeting?????”
I’ve been thinking about that and to some degree I guess the question isn’t completely answerable. At its core, it’s the perennial conundrum of life. Why is life the way it is? “Because it’s life,” some might respond. And they have a point.
It takes so much preparation, so much work, so much effort, so much focus to get to the mountaintop. We do not have the time, the energy or the luxury of staying there long. We cannot sustain that level of intensity. We celebrate, bask in the moment, drink in the exhilaration. And it’s not the being there that makes it so wonderful; it is the triumph of the trek to the top that triggers our powerful response. And then, we head back down the mountain.
On the way down, if we happen to notice, we might see that a single valley can wind its way in between a host of mountains. Childbirth happens once, birthday celebrations once a year, and milestones such as baptism and marriage are lightly scattered through the years that weave between.
Another part of the enigma is to some degree, simple definition. We call these things “mountaintop experiences” because they are so rare. If they happened every day we’d eventually start to yawn and say, “Ho hum. Another spectacular view. Already saw this, got the tee shirt.”
Another element has to do with perspective and choice. Some people find out they have cancer and immediately slide into the pit and wallow in it the rest of their life. Others say, “Screw you, Cancer. You may kill me but not today. You’re not taking my joy.” In spite of all else, they choose to focus on every blessing, every simple goodness in their life.
It’s kind of like two passengers riding on a train that travels along a river through the mountains. On the one side, you look out the window and all you can see is the closest hundred feet of bare stone face of the bluffs rising up and disappearing above you. On the other side of the train, you look out and see a beautiful mountain stream, rumbling and tumbling its way around the boulders. You see riffles and rapids. On the opposite bank, aspen in the splendor of autumn. Beyond that, majestic mountains.
Both passengers riding on the same train, moving through the same terrain, headed to the same destination. One of them stares out the window, cursing the mountains. The other chooses to look out a different window.
A few of them even move to the other side.