I would like to share with you a gift a very dear friend gave me. She showed me (and continues to show me) that finding joy in life is a commitment and not a goal.
After all, we don’t get to control what will pass or how our best plans will unfold.
It’s November and I am in New Zealand with my friend. Let’s call her Agnes. Agnes and I have been planning this trip for 3 years, since before she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. We would climb a mountain together to celebrate being alive in a new decade of her life.
Very little went as planned, yet it went 100% according to our deeper intention.
Our first foray to test skills and fitness in the snow ended with one high step as Agnes strained muscles essential to stabilising herself on uncertain ground. A very minor injury, but enough to mean climbing was out of the question.
Less than 6 hours later she was urging me to climb with our guide without her, not to lose the opportunity for me. She quoted her mantra which I had heard so often throughout chemo and surgery: “it’s all good”. There’s good in here somewhere. I just have to be open to finding it.
I should add that her other mantra is “if life gives you lemons, add vodka”!
It would have been so easy for Agnes to turn her very real and intense disappointment into resentment or bitterness. Her commitment to personal honesty precluded this as she focused on who she was being in response to what happened and accepting (versus fighting against) the events themselves.
So, with the generous and sensitive help of our guide, we changed plans.
If you have climbed in New Zealand, you may have stayed at Plateau Hut. It’s the launch point for those hoping to summit Aoraki Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak and a worthy climb.
It is a beautiful place, literally perched above the Tasman Glacier and looking directly across to Mount Cook, Mount Tasman and the other peaks around.
We had been joined on this trip by Mara, an Italian woman with a beautiful soul who spends her life as a ‘refuge or hut guardian’ (now there’s a metaphor for life).
In a blissful bubble of isolation (this was 8 to 12 November), while our guide and I completed a very enjoyable climb, Agnes stepped with an open mind and heart into what the day offered, feeling joy when watching the joy and excitement of others. For example: Mara’s overwhelming delight when one of the other climbers at the hut lent her his skis. Agnes forged a beautiful connection with the two gregarious, confident young men who never-the-less had fears about their futures. She delighted in the beauty of the place, the joy of being alive and pondered how to share this with her children. With a desire to be the best mother she can be, she asked herself “how do I live my life to the fullest in a way that embraces and nurtures them?”
I respect Agnes deeply for living her life truly according to her values. By this I mean staying committed to them even when it got hard. Her values were like anchors during a storm. They gave her a sure starting point from which to work through each situation as it arose, releasing her attachment to the outcome she had planned for.
The morning of our departure we took a final walk up Glacier Dome to breathe in deeply the spirit of the place. As we descended back to the hut the tiny specs of snow which had been dusting our clothing gradually thickened into large soft flakes. Back at the hut we learned that, on this one morning, the helicopter pilot was late for work. We watched the cloud base gradually lower till the Tasman Glacier was blocked from view and understood there was no lift home for us today.
Eight people stuck in a hut with nothing to do except be with each other and our own entertainments. How can I do justice with words to the experience of this? Eight people moved in time with each other through the moods of the day: fun and laughter, thoughtful story-telling, personal quiet time and reflection and a great deal of energetic digging out snow to keep access to the hut and toilets open. Almost by way of counterpoint one person went against the harmony we created. He had come to climb Mount Cook and nothing else would do. He struggled with his frustration and disappointment because the snow storm ruled out a summit attempt for a number of days. Eventually he cut his whole trip short.
At 1pm the next day the cloud lifted and it was time to go. No need to share contact details, just heart felt good-byes as this wasn’t about being friends for life. It was about sharing a moment in time.
Agnes and I both felt deeply blessed by what we had experienced. We definitely fulfilled the intention of our trip. A mountain was climbed. However the mountain we climbed together was metaphorical. A new decade of life was truly celebrated and much joy was experienced and shared with people who were simply willing to be. We could not possibly have planned this. And Agnes lead the way by keeping her heart open to what might unfold….
I thank you Agnes for your wise and determinedly joyful heart.