The ground was still smoking. So many were gone. Those once considered close were no more than memories now – ghosts that haunted her. She kept walking. She didn’t want to. She wanted to turn around and try, one more time, to work for common ground. But she knew it was fruitless, so she set her face toward the horizon and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Suddenly, it seemed, years had passed. She had found a refuge, a place to be until the pain subsided. In that refuge, she could forget and focus her attention on the tasks at hand. Curiosity had always been her most loyal companion, and she had let it guide her. She had worked through the training, and when she completed one level, she started another. She just wasn’t ready to integrate the past into her present quite yet. Now, halfway up the mountain, she was spent.
The past wasn’t going to be silent any longer. She had been pretty successful at keeping her eyes focused on the present, not letting the niggling melancholy get the upper-hand, at least not often enough to be a problem. But as she saw the finish line in sight, she began to sink. She could feel the years bearing down on her.
She sat down on a large rock. Surrounded by the trees, she felt their presence strong and steady. She didn’t think it would be like this … oh, there were so many words to describe how she felt. Challenged. Pressured and pushed. Inadequate. Overwhelmed. But really, she felt all those things because she didn’t want to fail. The ghosts wanted her to fail, and she was so tired of trying to prove herself. Bone-tired and weary. She didn’t feel strong anymore. Just spent.
She glanced down at her bag. She had some tools that could help, she was sure. And she wasn’t alone – she had support if she needed it. She was thankful for that. But, they couldn’t do the work for her. She would have to pull herself together. But sitting on this rock, she knew she was just surviving moment by moment, week by week. That just wasn’t the way she wanted it all to go. It would cost too much – she didn’t want to pay with her sanity.
So, she took stock. Time was not in her bag of tricks, so she would have to just keep moving. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she scolded herself again. But, what would happen if she wasn’t perfect? If she didn’t get it all right? What if she didn’t go above and beyond? Was that even possible?
She sighed. She still had what she had came with – the trial hadn’t stripped her completely bare. Not yet, anyway. And, she could be late sometimes, she told herself. She didn’t have to be first, or best. She didn’t really think she was ‘best,’ not by a long shot, but at least she wanted to be in the ‘better’ category. Perhaps the time for that had passed, and now it was just a matter of perseverance. She could still write, and, if given enough time, she could parse out intentions and motivations fairly well. She could brainstorm, and she still had some creative thoughts arising from time to time, especially if she got quiet long enough. She still had her quick reflexes, but it really had to be a crisis before they were employed anymore – they, too, exacted a cost she was not always willing to pay. Sometimes, and probably more frequent than she was willing to admit, she had resorted to hiding in the quiet refuge of meditation.
But getting quiet had become a problem as of late. It seemed like those ghosts just wouldn’t slink off and disappear on their own. They had been stirred up and agitated. Yes, they were still there, even if they had been ignored due to the distractions. But, she realized she could no longer run fast enough to evade them and sitting quiet just allowed them to revel in the sound of their voices banging around in her head. She often emerged from what used to be a comforting refuge numb from the sharp-edged memories. Was it really them talking, or was it her own condemning voice? Ah … now, there was a question.
Perhaps she could rewrite the memories, since they were hers in the first place. Was that possible? And even if she could, which would take a great deal of effort it would seem, would it give respite enough to continue up the mountain? And, did she even dare to whisper the real question: was what was at the top worth what it would cost her?
From her perch on the rock, she couldn’t see any other options but to keep going. And, that made it even harder. She really hated not having viable options.
She gathered herself and stood. Taking a deep breath, she turned and allowed herself a long look at the path ahead. Then, with determination reminiscent of another lifetime, she put one foot in front of the other heading upwards.