Debbie Berman

Climbing to the other side of fear

That colossal mountain in Africa challenges her to find the strength to conquer not only its peak, but also her past

Stronger. I say to the crisp grey dawn air, to the azure afternoon skies, to no one at all and to the ghosts of demons past.  Stronger. The word forms on my lips, like a battle cry, like an ancient warrior call — igniting a spark in the core of my being, sending a shiver through my sinews and soul. I am growing stronger. Born of this new strength, a change has been summoned, calling out to the dormant and withered parts of me. Just under two weeks to go. Until Africa. Until unknown vistas. Until pristine beauty. Until finally, I break free. I am about to embark on a trek that will take me through five ecosystems and test my physical and mental endurance limits. Kilimanjaro — I love the sound of its exotic syllables and the promise of climbing towards the heavens to reach its heights.

20170122083711_IMG_0247Six months ago, when I made the commitment to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I was a 46-year-old single super-mother, recovering from surgery, overweight and out of shape, with zero trekking experience and a profound dislike of the cold. I am ashamed to admit that I was insidiously developing a nasty little social media habit, complete with many glam-filled sleepless nights cast in the eerie blue glow of my cellphone. I am not entirely sure what I am hoping to find on the rooftop of Africa, but I know this: I am no longer that person.

Just after my divorce, it was just me and my four children, and I wondered how in the world we were going to survive. Would I be strong enough to get them through? There were long stretches when it felt like I was moving in a thick darkness, led by an unknown great force, pulling us like a magnet towards safety. I lived for a very long time in survival mode, not demanding much for myself, happy to have made it to the end of the day, battered and bruised sometimes, but for the most part all of us still intact. But now this newfound strength is compelling me to stop living so small and start actualizing my larger self.

Strong people climb big mountains.

Or maybe it is the climbing of big mountains that makes people strong.

It is time to release the shards of unresolved bitterness that have lodged into the cracks and crevices of my soul and hurl them over the side of that giant mountain in Africa. I envision myself standing at the top and watching as these fragments of pain and grief from days and years past roll and bump their way down the snowy peak, down the jagged rock edges, down into the vast valley, down, down, down — until they have become nothing but dust and shadow.

It has been challenging to prepare for this climb within my already overscheduled life; my training regimen has consisted for the most part of walking. With each step, with each breath of fresh air, I am renewed. The woven tapestry of branches, brambles, flowers, sky, birds, sunshine and windblown clouds surround me like a cloak of majesty. The all-encompassing beauty fills me up in a way that transcends words, logic, and mind. The hues blend to perfection, juxtaposed in precision by the loving hands of the creator. This is God’s handiwork. All I can do is move through it as a grateful observer.

I have grown stronger; but am I strong enough? There are nights when I am plagued with doubt, when I wonder what I have gotten myself into, when I am desperately afraid that I will fail. Then there are days when I am filled with hope and possibility, and I know with a defiant certainty that I am meant to be doing this climb and with it usher in a new way of being.

I am climbing to raise funds for Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities; no matter how things play out on the mountain, for me this endeavor is already a great success and will make a huge impact on the lives of thousands of special needs children. There truly are no limits. Not for the unique children of Shalva and not for me. Who says I can’t climb a colossal mountain in Africa? What dictates that I continue to confine myself to meet the imagined expectations of the world around me? I choose to remove the self-imposed barriers and grant myself permission to see what lies on the other side of my fear.

It seems to me now that strong is not how I pictured it at all, it does not have a formulaic one-size-fits-all definition and it is not about how much of the load I can carry all by myself, without letting anyone close enough to see the real me. I am realizing that in order to love and to be loved, I am going to have to allow for some vulnerability. Setting this goal has opened my heart wide open, inspiring me to live life with greater intensity and passion — perhaps with a greater risk for heartbreak, but opening a clear path for true and meaningful connection, which I believe is what we all yearn for.

Click here to sponsor my climb.

About the Author
Debbie Berman, a native of NYC, has lived in Israel since 1993. Debbie studied Political Science and Communications at Queens College, was a Tanach and Jewish Studies Fellow at Matan and is a Wingate Institute certified Dance and Movement Instructor. She currently serves as Marketing Communications Coordinator for a Non-profit organization in Jerusalem.
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