The Highlands. Reforging.

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Dark shadows crept over my soul as I gazed into the vastness of the wilderness around me. I knew nothing of what lay ahead, apart from a promise I was given as I signed up – an  immense physical and mental challenge. Looking at the excited, confident men around me, all fully equipped and ready, I swallowed dryly. The moon, strange and somehow sinister, peered at me over the black, snow-laden peaks. One after another, the coaches roared down the empty, dark road. There was no turning back.

Inside me, a storm was brewing. Fears, as old as my first days in the world, screamed and raged at me. Doubt gnawed at my trembling heart and silent, crippling hopelessness weakened my legs as I beheld the formidable mountains. I was accustomed to the presence of the forces within me…

Sitting next to my dad, feeling so much, wanting to say so much, but keeping quiet instead a little boy, who somehow already knew that he is not, and never will be, a man like his father…

Standing alone in front of the taunting bully – immobilised, frozen with humiliation, unable to do or say anything…

Falling behind the other kids when we ran together at school. Losing each playground wrestling match. Failing to catch, throw, or kick the ball in the pitch, and sending the other kids into hysterical laughter. All the while inwardly chanting the mantra which had become the anthem of my life. I can’t.  I can’t.  I can’t.

Fear. Inability. Shame. Emasculation. An ugly, repulsive softness inside. A worm, not a man. A cripple in the world of boys, trying hard to be somebody, only to be humiliated, time and time again. No, it does not go away with the passing of childhood. What is forged in the world of children, its sharpened in the world of adults. Sharp? No, not me. I am nothing. A faceless poser. I can`t survive in this harsh, brutal place. I am nothing.

As I walked through the miles of treacherous marshes, hour after hour, not seeing how far we had yet to go, my mind screamed in despair. I had to stop. I needed to stop. I kept walking.

As I climbed the first mountain, not knowing what challenge awaited us at the top, my muscles weakened and my lungs burned. Dropping to my knees, I drank from the waterfall and collapsed on the ground. I had to stop. It was impossible to carry on. After a short rest, I got up and kept going, step by step.

As we waded into the freezing waters of the river, an army of men, stripped down to their underwear, the sharp fangs of the cold sank into my flesh, burning my limbs with a cruel, icy heat. I wanted to get out. I needed to get out. Instead, I let out a roar, and burst out laughing with what seemed like a defiant joy. People turned to look at me. I roared again, laughing and hitting my chest with my fist, over and over again. Something stirred within me. It was old, deeper than the shyness, and the softness and the inability which I had always seen as a part of my character. It was something real, alive and sharp, which made me alive and present to every breath, sensation, or feeling. As if somewhere from the top of the great mountain, a battle call has been sounded and my heart was awakening from its stupor, urging me to follow the call and plunge into the unknown dangers.

Emotions welled up within me as we climbed to the snow-covered top of the mountain. Slow and laborious was my ascent, fraught with danger and despair, both increased by my exhaustion and the height from which I would fall if I slipped. I dropped the rock I carried on my shoulder and fell face down on the ground. I had found what I had looked for and my heart knew it. The vast beauty – the sky, the peaks, the ocean, the islands – shook my soul to the core, telling the eternal tale of something precious which, although known, is yet to be revealed. I could see the places which me and the team had walked, climbed and waded through – miles of untamed wilderness. I could hardly believe my eyes. Hot tears rolled down my face as the beautiful, affirming words penetrated my heart…

How can you be nothing…look what you`ve done…

And there was light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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