Legacy of a Mountain Climber

She was a girl with a mountain to climb.

-Markus Zusak

 

My daddy taught me to climb mountains. I was born in Texas while Dad was in the Army, but as soon as his time was served, he headed straight back for the mountains. I really can’t blame him. He was raised in Detroit, moved to the mountains when he was 10, and then he found himself in the desert for years. Once his time in the desert was finished, it was logical to go back to the mountains. It’s even biblical. There are a lot of verses in the Bible talking about fleeing to the mountains. Growing up I thought of the mountains as comfort, like the topographical macaroni and cheese. This week my daddy, the mountain climber, would have been 61.

When I went to visit my grandparents, and it didn’t matter which ones, we headed for the mountains. One lived nearby in the heart of a region that is known for sweeping rivers, wildflowers, and fly-fishing. There I learned to pick the sassafras leaves off the tree and smell them, and I ran through the sprinkler while the train whistled as it came around the mountain down the bend in the road. I learned about snakes and owls. My granddaddy would play the guitar as my granny rocked me to sleep. My dad’s parents were a state away. Our extended family settled in the mountains so high I got car sick each time we traveled there. In those mountains I learned to dance in the rain, caught my first fish, learned to snap green beans, and climbed the crab apple trees. Mountains were my friends.

My family could always see the mountains in the distance. We could visit the mountain and live in the valley in the shadow of the mountains. My father took us on afternoon drives for most of my childhood right up until the day mountains started having a completely different meaning to me. I always loved the part of the mountains where we reached the end of a wall of mountains on each side and the blue sky opened up. We spent our weekends on walking trails hiking to waterfalls with various friends, seeing creatures in the woods, and being taught to leave nature where it was. Flowers were there for everyone. There, the rocks were made for skipping. Life was tangibly more abundant there in the mountains.

The day my father ended his life it was at the top of one of his beloved mountains. That was the first day I thought of mountains as something huge to get over. My playground was now a graveyard. I had to find a way to sort all the wonderful memories I had in those mountains that were now mingled with the pain on the worst day of my life. I swore I’d never drive past that place again. Then I moved to the mountains. I had to drive past that mountain each time I came home for the holidays. When your mountain is visible, it makes for a much harder journey to get around it.

When you are raised climbing mountains, it makes it harder to identify mountains that are problems. If you like challenges, you might not notice your mountain until it starts to feel like a desert. Once I lived through losing my father, all other mountains seemed like hills. I eventually came upon a time in my life it was clear I was in the desert. This was a totally different kind of mountain. Desert air sucks the life out of you. It demands your attention. It gives no mercy. Deserts are not known for their mercy to life. Deserts are…well, deserts.

You never really consider life in the desert. Everyone knows cacti live there, but if someone had told me to name desert animals I’d likely have said, “tumbleweed?” I started understanding why a cactus is prickly. I was pretty prickly myself. I started to feel forgotten by the God that I knew made all my beloved mountains. I started praying that God would move a very specific mountain. I was working three jobs while battling this mountain, and one day I was sitting praying watching the front door of a retail establishment, and it hit me. The store I worked had “mountain outfitters” in the name. God had somehow placed me smack in the middle of the biggest clue that sometimes He moves the mountain, but some mountains are meant to be climbed.

While in my metaphorical desert, I did a little research. There is a rain shadow effect that happens in some areas that cause little water to get to an area because of…you guessed it, a MOUNTAIN. In the rain shadow effect, water comes up with wind up one side of the mountain, and moist air rises. By the time it gets to the top, the moisture is gone. The other side of the mountain has a rain shadow effect that causes desert like conditions.

     Something I never considered was even though the rain was not reaching my desert, I was being sheltered from the wind by being on the other side of the mountain. But things still grow in the desert, and I was no different. In a rain shadow effect, it still rains, and when it does, the desert the next day is abloom. The plants there have just enough rain to live until the next rain. Sometimes that is how we live in the desert. We just have to get the rain when we can, and somehow it is enough until the next rainfall.

Even though I no longer am in my “desert”, I still have a few mountains. I have decided that some of them will not be moving, and one day I will be prepared for the hike to get to the top of them. I am grateful for the legacy of mountains my father left to me. I don’t have to hike the mountains alone. Just like God provides rain to a desert in need, He has not failed to provide exactly whatever and whomever I need in my life through each mountain, valley, and even desert. Mountains are inevitable. I’m glad my daddy knew the way to the top.

Father’s Day Benediction

I recently told a dear friend of mine I hated Father’s Day because my dad passed away years ago. I soon realized I was preaching to the choir. You see, my friend had a child, an only child, and she too had passed away. His child was special for myriad reasons, but most importantly, she was special because she was HIS.

He didn’t get to choose her, but he would have. I feel pretty comfortable saying he’d do it all over again. His beautiful daughter had special needs and needed nursing care all of her 10 years she lit up his world. Now that she is gone, besides the gaping chasm left in his heart, she took with her his feeling of being a father. This led me to ask myself what a father really was.

I never met his daughter, but I can tell you about the gift she left us. She left us her DAD. Chad used to spend hours devoted to her care. Now, he cares for others ranging from lonely friends, to his parents, to students struggling (and I do mean STRUGGLING :)) with APA format. He shovels gravel with a smile, will make your universal remote behave with decorum, and read your favorite books just so he can talk about them with you. He will play board games with large amounts of instructions. He will watch movies adapted from books even if you warn him they are awful. He will drop off passion tea lemonade to a friend, and not JUST because that friend got him hooked on them. He will encourage small children, and he will encourage large children. Actually, he just encourages everyone.

Now, he’d be the first to try to deny all of this. For starters, he likes to argue just a little. He loves science and math and feelings are just not in any equation he likes to work. He prefers to be the behind the scenes type of person because that is who he is. He likes to pretend he’s a tough guy, and truth is he is a tough guy—a better tough guy than most tough guys are.

He’s the kind of tough guy that tells you to remember your umbrella when it is raining hours away from where you live. He’s the kind of tough guy that plays video games with a nephew and recommends books to his niece. He’s the kind of tough guy that will listen to your hurt and never hint of his own.

Being a good dad starts before the birth of a child. It extends far as far back as learning to be a good sibling. Being a good dad also reaches long after death, whether that is the death of the parent, or even when it is tragically the child’s. It’s the selfless nature, encouraging words, and raw love shown that proves a person is a real dad, even in the face of ultimate hurt when a child leaves the world her parent shares first.

So Chad, Happy Father’s Day to the best DAD I know. I’m so thankful you ARE a DADDY. It made you who you are, and the legacy of love you gave your daughter will live long after all of us in the quiet way you care for the people in your world. You don’t have to feel like a DAD to prove you are in the example you set for your family and friends. We know you are a dad because of the kind of love for others shown is the kind that lives on forever. I’m thankful for you every day.

(Ladies, he’s single. Can you even believe that? All interested parties can contact me and I’ll pass on your info!)