“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing” — Kilimanjaro and Beyond, by Barry Finlay

In February 2017, I will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to support Shalva, the Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. You might be wondering to yourself why in the world someone with zero trekking experience would willingly choose to spend 10 days in freezing temperatures, climbing a colossal mountain in Africa.

This year, I had back-to-back surgeries to remove some unwanted and potentially dangerous growths. It turned out to be nothing more than a scare. I’m fine, blessed with a clean bill of health. But the experience woke something that had fallen dormant deep inside of me. It was a wake-up call to live fully and to live now. It was then that I heard about the Kilimanjaro climb and the rooftop of Africa called out to me, I felt certain that this challenge and the goal of supporting the efforts of Shalva was the next right thing for me.

Soon after I committed to doing the climb, I went to visit Shalva and had the opportunity to meet with some of the children they work with. I felt an instant solidarity and kinship.  When I climb Kilimanjaro and things get tough, as they are bound to, I will be thinking of the children of Shalva bravely soldiering the mountains that have been strewn upon their paths. These children truly are warriors, battling obstacles and hurdles every moment of their lives.

As I spent time with them, I realized that they are not all that different from any of us. Everyone bears the scars of the various challenges he or she has had to contend with along the way. We might not get to choose our challenges (they are the cards we are dealt), but how we play the hand, that is where a person’s character is built. That is where hope and belief and fortitude make all the difference, where, with bravery and grace, we can strap those challenges on our shoulders and get on with our lives.

The Shalva staff, along with hundreds of volunteers, are an army of positivity and light, reaching out to the children and their families and imparting the message that although things are difficult there is still hope, there is always hope. Shalva’s services are free of charge and provide life-changing support to help these children not just cope with their disabilities but learn how to grow and thrive.

I am not fully recovered from my surgeries, let alone in my best physical shape, but I have six months to get stronger and a stubborn redhead streak that is wildly pumped for this challenge.

I am thrilled at the idea of Kilimanjaro, but I am also terrified. Since deciding to do this, I have had days where I have wanted to call the whole thing off, the climb and everything, the whole living larger thing — and just go back to my quiet safe little corner where no chances were taken. But I can’t. I just can’t. A light has gone on inside of me and I am simply unable to ignore it.

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I am by no means a mountaineer or adventurer, but in many ways I feel that I am no stranger to mountains, which are not all necessarily made of earth and rocks.

Indulge me for a minute. I want to tell you a quick story. It’s allegory. It’s fable. And yes, it’s about me.

Once upon a time there was a girl who set out to make her way in the world. She had successfully embarked on her journey when unexpectedly a mountain, huge and foreboding appeared out of nowhere, blocking her way. There was no way around it, no way to go forward without contending with this grand beast of a thing. Where did it come from? How did this happen? A massive, seemingly impossible to scale mountain just plunked down in the middle of her regularly scheduled life.

Standing at the foot of the mountain, she lost her bearings, she could barely see where she was. A gloom filled shadow was cast upon her, upon her plans and pre-conceived notion of what a life, what her life, was meant to look like. It was suddenly so unforgivingly dark. It made her shoulders sag. It made her chin quiver and her head hang heavy and low. The quicksands of self-pity and despair were underfoot, tripping her up and pulling her under. She wanted to give up, quit, game over.

How she loathed that mountain. She raged at that mountain. She despaired and disparaged and forlornly cursed at that mountain. She begged the mountain to move out of her way, to just pretty please clear a small pathway so she could be on her way. But the mountain knew nothing of compromise or conformity. The mountain would not budge; it obstinately glared at her in its ancient, solid majesty.

Slowly, after a great deal of pain and frustration, reluctantly the girl began to understand that if she wanted to move forward in her life, she had no choice but to get over the mountain. Sometimes the only way out is through, or as is the case with our mountain metaphor, the only way out is up. And a new voice came from a part of her she did not recognize. It was primal and raw. It spoke of survival and fortitude. So she forged ahead, at first inching at a snail’s pace, sometimes actually slipping backwards, losing precious ground, that had been hard earned by her blood sweat and tears. But in time she found a more fluid movement forward, a dance of tenacity and stubborn perseverance. Face towards the future, onward and upward she went.

So here I am now, mid-mountain. If I look back to see how far I have climbed I may lose my footing and if I look ahead to see how much mountain remains I may be greatly discouraged and lack the drive to continue. So where does that leave me? It leaves me walking, one simple step at a time, in tune with the personal rhythm of my life force — the music that is uniquely mine. It leaves me weathering fearful storms, left ragged and drenched and shaken to the core. It leaves me absorbing the warm golden summer sunshine, winding a trail of robust color on my cheeks and my neck. It leaves me bearing witness to the tapestry of nature, multi-colored and flawless in its pristine magnificence.

And it leaves me writing this blog post, telling you about my decision to climb the big mountain in Africa. It is my sincere hope that the funds raised to sponsor my climb will make a real difference in the lives of the children of Shalva. I invite you to join me (virtually at least) on this journey. I’ll try to be brave enough to honestly share my excitement and fears, my thoughts and impression along the way. I know for sure that the photographs of Kilimanjaro will be stunning, literally of some of the most breathtaking terrain in the world — and that the experience on the whole will lead to profound growth, developing a resilience and strength that I pray will serve me well as I continue through the mountains, real and otherwise, that may happen upon my path.

Click to sponsor my climb.

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