Lessons from Year 2
GYLI has been an incredibly formative part of my summers in high school, but one memory that stands out to me was the Simon Bailey Memorial Climb to 11,017 feet above sea leve
My small group embarked for our culminating hike in the dry, brittle heat of the New Mexico desert. Although I had prepared extensively against altitude sickness, my lungs felt like popped balloons. Already, a thin sheen of sweat accompanied my ragged breathing. The sun rose towards the sky along with us, and as the initial excitement of our big climb dwindled away, our aching legs moved exponentially slower with each step. After a short lunch break (one that ended all too fast) our guide told us that a beautiful meadow awaited us at the top of the mountain.
“You’ll want to see it,” he said, and we did.
We climbed towards this meadow. Boys and girls, who I’d met merely days ago in the Albuquerque airport, now offered me their last chocolate chip cookie or lent me a hand on a perilous slope.
The meadow to us was a sort of promise. It mattered not because it was a tangible field with blossoming flowers, but because a group of like-minded individuals could coalesce to find it. As we passed the waxy green foliage and erupting cactuses of the desert mountains, I reveled in the experience of the climb itself, the infinite meadows of blossoming life within a seemingly desolate landscape. In fact, as I searched for this enigmatic “meadow,” I discovered myself examining the most diminutive desert daffodils.
At the top of the mountain, when the valley extended its warm yellow sands for hundreds of miles beneath our feet, we threw ourselves on the ground. As I gazed at the clouds, I wasn’t proud of climbing 11,017 feet, but rather of the reckless irrationality that kept me climbing. It hurt to continue. Turning around and walking away would have been easy.
But for me, the voluntary nature of the hike made it worthwhile. I touched the sky because I was part of a team, and because my friends and I shared an unspoken promise that we would embark on a collective mission.
Although the physical challenges of scaling a mountain no longer intimidate me, I’ve applied the lessons from my retreat to less tangible, and oftentimes more essential, tasks. When I’m struggling to complete my best work or when a someone needs that extra hand, I remember standing among the clouds. I remember the meaning of being the best version of myself, not because someone told me to keep climbing or gave me a prize, but because it mattered to every person along the way.
I put 11,017 steps into the process, and then a few more.