I’ve never climbed a mountain. I’ve sidled up many though. One of my great loves is to do a four or five day hike and the moment the hike finally clears the tree-line I just love it. The climb after the Pelion plains on the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair walk, the approach to Mt Luxmore Hut and the ridge line walk the next day on the Kepler track or the beautiful alpine scenes between the Routeburn Falls hut, over the Harris saddle to Lake Mackenzie hut are just glorious.
The aching limbs, sleet in your face and lungs attempting to suck in enough oxygen are all worth it as you sit with your companions and enjoy a hot soup or ‘brew’ at the long awaited hut towards the end of the day. Following the ever faithful pasta meal the game of 500 by candle light leads to a full silence and finally you snuggle down deep into your sleeping bag.
I have never run a marathon but I suspect I could walk one if I had to. But marathons and mountains take as many forms as there are dreamers. There are as many vistas down deep river valleys surrounded by snow capped mountains as there are ordinary pilgrims determined to live life to the full and many a poet, musician or creative expression began in a heart and spirit that simply refused to give up or settle for second best.
We rightly celebrate the athlete who shuffles into a packed stadium with muscles burning and the energy for the finish line and not one centimetre more. We rightly honour the patriot or prophet who emerges from imprisonment after almost a life time and refuses bitterness or blame. We rightly ritualise the courage of the ordinary in the face of great odds and tell stories that morph into legend of day to day courage that sacrifices for the greater good beyond self, family or kin.
We do all of this and more. For these is something deep within that longs for ‘more’ and for ‘meaning’. That longing sees the destination beyond the treeline and accepts the pain of the climb (in whatever form they might take) and focuses on the noble, but ordinary task, of stepping out one pace at a time. That longing strides, or in some cases shuffles forth, on the shoulders of hope.
Too often we forget that that athlete shuffling into the stadium, or the prophet or patriot is little different to the parent who wearily gets out of bed at 2 am and again at 3 am to care for the sick child or the sweat shop worker who labours for countless hours and terrible pay and conditions to put food on the table for their children. Again, these images take a thousand forms and you too will have yours born from the fidelity of your journey – your marathons!
All of the above is my convoluted way of saying that every one of us runs our own marathons and does so in our own way and does so with ordinary but really quite extraordinary courage. Saving a marriage, deepening a relationship, trusting ourselves, forgiving ourselves, finding balance, taming or befriending the ‘black dog’ that accompanies so many journeys, learning self love or self acceptance, walking beside the hormonal teenager who skilfully plays the game of not wanting but wanting you to walk beside – all of these and a thousand forms that more and meaning take are marathons of the heart.
My father fought mental illness for the last thirty years of his life, in 2010 my good friend Greg Layton did the Atacama desert crossing, my fellow Proserpine brother Michael Pini has just retired from an extraordinary professional career as a Tax Commissioner all the while battling the burden and yet gift of cerebral palsy. My good friend Brendan Cannon learnt to walk again (and go on to play Rugby for Australia) after a serious accident on the Storey Bridge. All of these are marathons. All wrapped by more and meaning and hope.
Ultimately the outside marathons (the Ironman or Ironwoman, the learning to walk again after a serious accident, climbing your version of Everest) can only be achieved with the courage, determination and hope that the inner marathon brings.
I don’t know much. But what I do know is that Damien can only run (or shuffle) his marathons (both outside and inside ones) one small step at a time. Is there any other way?