False Peaks

Once, I went climbing in Colorado. I remember feeling both excited to start the journey and daunted by the task of getting more than 14,000 feet in the air. About two days into the climb, I lost my excitement.  Between the bear that prowled our campsite and ravaged our food supplies the night before to the really bad case of altitude sickness I had developed, I was ready for the trip to be over.  We still had a few more days to trudge through before we finally woke to ascend to the mountain’s peak.  I was less excited and more relieved.  I thought we’d get started in the early morning and be done by noon.  I'd be ready to descend, get back to camp, and get to a shower for the first time in a week. 

I was mistaken.

This turned out to be the longest day yet.  Not only did I have to deal with tricky footing, cold dry wind, and a lack of water, but also the climb was riddled with a teasing, torturous series of false peaks.  Each false peak invited me to stop, stay a while, and see the beautiful Rocky Mountain skyline from a different vantage point.  Although I was grateful for the views, I just wanted to be at the top.  I was tired.  I remember one particularly elusive false peak with a comfortable cleft in a rock, out of the wind.  Our climbing guide had to practically pry me from the comfortable nook. 

ventually, I crawled out of my little rock fortress and we reached the peak. But by the time I got there, I was exhausted, chap-lipped, and I hardly appreciated the view.  We stayed for a while during what felt to me like a very anticlimactic experience.  Before we left, though, I looked over at an adjacent mountain, nearly a thousand feet higher than the one on which I currently stood, and laughed. My climbing buddies were sure I had lost it.  But I laughed because after all this climbing and all these false peaks, I had arrived to the top of this mountain only to find that it was its own giant false peak with the real mountain’s peak off in the distance.  But what would I find on the other side of that mountain?

Failed hopes are really false peaks in disguise.

What I've learned is that life is sort of like trying to get to the top of the mountain, only to discover there's yet another final ascent to make.  Each peak offers us a different view of our world, and with each climb, we learn a little more about ourselves.  We hope we get to climb the mountain with people we love because eventually we’ll give up this stubbornness and realize that we’re pretty much always going to be climbing. 

This is what I love about family and couples therapy.

I connect with people who walk through my door because I can see that they’ve climbed one too many false peaks assuming they had made their final ascent. Exhausted, they decided to hide in the cleft of a rock, safe from a wild wind with a looming mountain in the distance. I love therapy because I get to be a climbing guide. I get to coax you out of your safe nook.  I get to climb with you.  I see what the world looks like from your eyes. I feel how the rocks slide under your feet, and hopefully, I get to help you make sense of what you needed to learn from this view. Then, once we’ve decided that the wind is too cold here, we climb down and head for new paths.  You find others on your climb, some you recognize, some are brand new, and eventually, you look back and I won’t be there.  And that’s good too. I’ve got my own peaks to discover. Because life really isn’t about climbing to the top as much as it is about enjoying the view and picking up a few friends along the way.

Dr. Mathis Kennington