Authored by Jessica Epstein (a guest contribution)
It was a lot less dramatic than 40 days, and I didn’t come down with stone tablets inscribed by God, or other grand revelations. But I thought it was an experience worth writing about.
A couple of years ago, I made a resolution that when I had the opportunity to see or do something amazing and memorable, I wasn’t going to let it pass. I have passed up such opportunities in the past, and I regret those times. I believe that one purpose we have in life is to experience and learn new things. Granted, not every single experience is worth having—but I think a good number of the ones that come our way are worthy to learn from in some way.
A few co-workers, friends, and I climbed Xueshan (a.k.a. “Snow Mountain”).1 It is the second-highest mountain in Taiwan, with its peak at 3,886 meters (12,749 ft). It took us three days and two nights. It was both the longest trek I’ve ever completed and the highest altitude I’ve ever climbed.
In Chinese, they have two ways of expressing that you’ve been somewhere—one used when you were physically there, the other used when you actually experienced it. This journey made me think that I should more often be fully present—in the moment—of what I experience. Even though the guys took a thousand and one pictures during the trek, the photos do not nearly capture the magnificence of the sights, sounds, and feelings. I knew that would be the case, and that’s one reason I wanted to make this trip—to see it with my own eyes, and also hear it, smell it, feel it as I froze in the cold mountain air, and so forth.
Since we had to carry everything we would need for the three days in our packs—and since a sleeping bag, food, and a couple of other items were non-optional—I didn’t bring any electronics. No laptop, Kindle, or even a phone. I did bring my trusty iPod Nano, “for emergencies.” When we saw rats running around in the hikers’ lodge as we were about to settle down to sleep, I concluded that attempting to sleep in these circumstances was officially an emergency and an appropriate use of my one available precious piece of technology.
For three entire days I received and sent no emails, phone calls, or texts. I had no visual input either—besides the panorama around me—no books, ebooks, movies, or TV shows. Ever since I got my first email account a “zillion years ago,” I have not experienced such a long time away from technology.
Between work and personal purposes, I’m at my MacBook about 12 hours a day, and then I crawl into bed at night with my Kindle. When I’m cleaning, walking, driving, or conducting some activity away from my Mac, then I have my iPod “reading” to me. The very idea of the “vast silence of no input” was terrifying at first … but soon enough I found it calming, relaxing, and eventually desirable.
At one point, two of us were climbing from the lodge to the peak, and keeping a close eye on the time as we had to meet up with the rest of the team back at the lodge. We were trying to get down the mountain by a certain time that afternoon. In one moment of clarity, I realized, “So, I’m in a beautiful forest, at sunrise, with red dawn sunlight streaming through the trees, experiencing something so gorgeous that I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again … and I’m thinking about what time it is?!” Too much thinking about what’s next, too much rushing from this to that, too much watching the clock, can cause us to miss out on so many things.
I’d like to miss fewer of those things from now on.
I loved the sheer beauty of the mountain! Glorious was my word for that week. It’s amazing how wonderfully refreshing it is for the mind, body, and spirit to see beautiful things. There are so many beautiful things in life—but from what I’ve seen so far, there’s hardly anything more beautiful than the panoramic view from a high mountain.
I was bowled over by the diversity of terrain that exists in this relatively small island country. What I have seen and experienced on an everyday basis (tropical flora, hot weather, and very crowded cities and streets) is vastly different from what I saw on the mountaintop. The forests of tall trees, the fresh cool air, and lack of other people for miles were invigorating.
The vast diversity in that one little corner of the world—a microcosm of the enormous diversity of the world overall—reminded me of the great diversity of human souls I share the planet with.
Sans technology, as I mentioned, the primary form of entertainment was, naturally, other people. It was interesting to see a different side of the people I work with—reminding me that every person has so much to them on so many levels. We’re each like a little universe, and I quite like exploring new universes.
A gentlemanly fellow climber insisted on “picking up the rear” along with me. Between being a recovered asthmatic with less-than-stellar lungs, and my shoes breaking along the way, I was going slower than anyone else. He kindly stayed at my pace, and even waited the night to go up the last stretch to the peak with me the next morning, which made it possible for me to make it all the way.
This act of thoughtfulness and kindness reminded me of how much good there is in so many people. In addition to the kind souls I trekked with and that we came across, I thought about my friends and what was going on with them while I was away from it all. I couldn’t help but realize just how blessed I am to have as many wonderful people as I do in my life—family, friends and co-workers who care, who are there for me. I only pray that I will be there for them in the same way, when and how I can.
Now about the descent: I hear people using the saying “it’s all downhill from there.” The intent is to make something sound easy, in that the hardest part is over. But I think that analogy must be in regard to riding a bicycle and not to trekking down a mountain. I’ve never enjoyed the descent on any hike, and this time was no different. This descent took longer than expected and was more stressful, since my shoes didn’t have grip and things got slippery.
It made me think of the words of the Psalmist: “You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”2 It also made me ponder how things do tend to come in pairs—good with bad, uphill with downhill, etc. That’s kind of just the way life is. It’s not something to be mopey or disappointed about, but rather it’s there to teach us to be grateful for the parts we like, while accepting that there are going to be parts we don’t particularly enjoy as much.
This mountain-trekking experience caused me to be more grateful for the little joys in life that we sometimes take for granted. On the way down, toward the end, my feet were blistered, my legs wobbly and shaky, my peanut butter bars all consumed, and there was no “glory” left to aspire to viewing. My last remaining motivation was “every step brings me closer to a hot shower.” By the time I got down, a few people on our team had been down for a while, and had found a place to take a hot shower! It was like heaven. As was the hot meal—a tasty spread of various regional Taiwanese dishes—with a cold drink alongside it. Sleeping in my own bed a few hours later was marvelous. I hope it’ll be awhile before I start taking these little things for granted again.
While up there, “on the mountain,” I had time to meditate and pray about my life—my future, my plans, and various concerns I had. By God’s grace, I committed them to His capable hands. I somehow feel a lot less stressed about a number of things. Having that time up above it all gave me the ability to look at the world from a different perspective than usual.
I am glad to be back in civilization, but I hope and pray my new perspective is not short-lived. I started making dinner without having my iPod on, having gotten so comfortable with the idea of quiet. Sometimes interesting thoughts and ideas begin to form when I actually give myself the opportunity to think. I’ve concluded I ought to do more of that.
1 See another pronunciation
2 Psalm 18:36 ESV
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International