“¿Taxi, Amiga? ¿Taxi, Amiga?” As the words dripped down on me like a persistent drizzle of rain for the first half an hour of my hike up Volcano Pacaya, I could not help but feel that the man on the horse was taunting me. Everyone at the National Park near Antigua had their job. The children tried to sell walking sticks to hikers for 3-10 quatzales (depending on whether you knew how to barter – I got mine for 5). The women sold food or water to those about to make the trek. And this man, apparently, tried to weed out the weak hikers at the beginning of the hike, presumably so that things could move smoothly and safely for the rest of the time. Little did he know that with every drip of his words down on me, he made me less and less likely to be willing to take the horse he offered.
“He’s taunting us,” I said with a wink to the man beside me, who agreed that he was equally determined not to surrender. Unfortunately for him, within 20 minutes he had to give in, and I watched him pass by me, slumping in the saddle of the offered horse. In my case, on the other hand, the taunting drove me to the front of the pack – away from any question about whether I was going to give up (I’m not very good at giving up).
The guide for the hike knew that he had a group of 20 and 30 somethings, and he seemed to be determined to get us to the top and back in what can only be described as record time. The pace was unrelenting, but none of us wanted to be the one to ask for mercy.
When the guide reached under a hot rock at the top of our hike and slipped me the piece of silvery vulcanized stone he pulled out, I could only assume that I had earned some kind of respect. Some mountains are hard to climb, but some spirits are harder to break.
You cannot make it through a volcano, or a mountain, or a challenge without tenacity. The moments of “¿Taxi Amiga?” come as regularly as the phases of the moon. You see, the thing about mountains is that when you get to the top what you usually see is a breathtaking vista. But along with that beautiful view you are reminded of an ironic truth: there are many more mountains to climb.
So what do you do? Well, first you rest for a minute; because you sure earned it, and the view is a gorgeous reflection of God’s love for you.
And then? Then you climb the next mountain. Because you are neither the kind of person who gives up, nor the kind of person who takes the easy way out.
So, this morning, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. (yes, a.m.) and I hiked Volcano San Pedro, which made Volcano Pacaya feel like a walk around the block. It should have been a warning to me that Gloria, who was born in the shadow of Vulkan San Pedro, told me last night that she had only hiked it once in her life. Seeing as it was the most difficult physical thing I have ever done, I now understand why she only did it once. Six miles up from the edge of Lake Atitlan to the summit of San Pedro, with an extremely steep incline every single step of the way – prompting my pedometer to tell me that I had walked up the equivalent of 500 staircases by 6:00 a.m. (not stairs, staircases). I feel pretty certain as I write this that I will not be able to walk tomorrow. But I saw the sun rise over Lake Atitlan from the summit of San Pedro, and I saw a gorgeous reflection of God’s love for me.
Once again, throughout the entire hike, there was a voice behind me, but this time it had a tone of gentleness, compassion, encouragement and solidarity. “¿Consado?” my guide, a young man from the village, would say each time I paused in the 6 mile vertical ascent. “Si,” I would respond as we looked at one another understandingly. I made it to the top, every agonizing step, but this time, I did it because someone was behind me who believed that I could. What a beautiful, beautiful thing.
That word, “¿Consado?” stayed with me just as “¿Taxi Amiga?” had, and it brought up memories as well. It brought to mind my friend Rev. Carolene Brubaker, who is one of the strongest and gentlest souls I know. It brought to mind my friend Rev. Anna Layman Knox, who told me on my thirtieth birthday that she believes I can do anything I set my mind to, and every day I get to try to prove her right. It brought to mind all the people who I know are behind me, saying “Tired? I know it is hard. Step by step, poco a poco, we’ll get up it together.”
Friends, there are a lot of mountains in life to climb. Each one looks different, but they never stop coming. Learn, then, how to choose the right climbing partners. Or as one of my friends put it: “Stop being a Uriah.” When you go into battle, do it with people you can trust to have your back. You can certainly “climb every mountain, fjord every stream”, but you really do not have to do it alone.
When you find those friends, remember that your words have power. Try to be the kind of person who says the things that make people want to prove you right, not the things that make people want to prove you wrong.