Monday, August 09, 2010
A week ago, I was on my way off the Grand Teton. 10 years ago, when I was a lot stronger and a lot more confident, I made my first attempt on the Grand. Some poor route finding on my part led to a tired and shaken partner, and a failed attempt.
10 years later, things have certainly changed...Confidence and the "inner monologue" I've become known for have been replaced by an occasionally crippling combination of fear, contentment, and self contempt. It might be easy to chalk it up to what happens to most of us in the years between 26 and 36. We get "real" jobs, we get married, we buy houses...we have bills to pay, money to make and save and wonder how we should spend...we have children. When I was 26, I was certain that none of those changes would alter my path...I was convinced I could pull it all off. I would find a job that would give me some freedom to do what I want. I would marry a woman who loved me and wanted to share my life and not be defined by our jobs. I would buy a house I could afford, and I wouldn't get sucked into the endless cycle of lust and consumption which is unfortunately so prevalent all around us, particularly here in the suburban oasis of Westfield, NJ. I would be fortunate enough to have a lovely, healthy child...and I would raise her to love the things I love, but I would give her the ability to choose whichever path she decides is best. The thing is...I read these words and I look at where I'm at...and I think I've pulled it all off. But in many ways I'm a shell of my former self. And it's all my fault.
My wife might not admit it (or maybe she will), but I'm sure she misses the man she first met in Princeton in early 2005. Before you read more into that than I intend, let me explain. I'm fairly certain my wife will admit that I'm a very, very good father and husband. I cherish my girls...but I'm giving them the short end of the stick.
In the winter/spring of 2005, I was strong. Physically and mentally I was stronger than I'd ever been. I was soloing moderate ice climbs in the Catskills, climbing strong at the Gunks...I was punishing myself physically, putting myself thru sessions that would have me at my limit, and pushing it a little further each time. Of course, my physical presence would be reasonable at best in the places I wanted to measure myself...The Whites, the Daks, the Rockies and Alaska. I would spend days in those places with men (and women) who would humble me and teach me the meaning of strength. But in my little corner of the world...I felt strong.
That strong man was the one who met Kira that night at Triumph...the one who was so sure of himself. The one who knew in short order that he was with the girl he would marry. The one who decided to pack his bags and move to Philadelphia...and then decided to move his Philly girl to Jersey. The one who decided to get married in New Paltz. The one who climbed in Alaska (guided, of course, which is like cheating when your guide is Kevin Mahoney...but hell, I was in Alaska). The one who suffered in Quebec to climb La Pomme D'Or. The one who could hang because he was willing to fight like hell to hang on...that man, up until a week ago...had been slowly disappearing from anyone willing to look. My family could see it. My friend and mentor could see it. And I know my wife could see it.
This isn't where I blame it on my wife or my family or my obligations...because those "chains" that I'm wearing...the links aren't forged by my wife or daughter or the "burdens" of marriage...the chains are built with the fear that creeps in with every damn blog post I read about the failures of the Obama administration and the end of the United States. They're built with the fear that whatever money we have isn't enough...that we need more. The fear that every decision needs to be the right one, the perfect one. The fear that I don't have everything figured out. The fear that I need to be here all the time. The fear that something might happen when I walk out the door.
The chains aren't too heavy that I can't manage to hang with almost anyone on any given day here in Westfield...I'm good enough to be one of the strongest on the local ride...I ran fast enough to automatically qualify for the NYC Marathon...I can walk into the garage and probably do 15 pullups. By most accounts, I'm in pretty good shape...until I think about the places I really want to be measured.
A week ago...I finally took measure. I was measured by my wife...who told me I needed to get my ass out the door and find what I've been missing.
I was measured by Jeff Brandner...who, at 10 years my senior, continues to teach me lessons in strength and determination that I've never learned from anyone else. Jeff has always put me in my place, but he's NEVER done it in a way to embarrass or belittle me...he's always sought to remind me what I'm capable of...and continues to set the bar very, very high.
I was measured by just over 6 hours and 7000 feet of work to get to the summit of the Grand. I was measured by the easiest route to the top. I was measured by the knowledge that someone had died a week earlier on the very same spot I stood...and I almost let the fear tell me it was OK to turn around and fail.
I was measured by my emotions as I approached the summit...and the tears that were unleashed at the top. I was measured by my ability to admit what it meant to me to finally stand at the summit of the Grand. 10 years of life have passed. 10 years of glorious life...the start of a wonderful marriage to a remarkable girl, and the birth of a beautiful girl. These are the things that are worth holding onto, worth fighting for.
We get one crack at this life...one chance to spend our days as we wish. I want to celebrate the chance...and let go of anything that won't let me do it.