In early August of 2006 I was still recuperating from a bout of leukemia—of being hospitalized, medicalized, and chemoized. Fatigue was my constant companion. Depression hovered, ready to overwhelm me at any moment. Doubts about my ability to recoup physically assailed me. Although I was increasing my stamina, strength and fitness by walking up hills around where I live, it wasn’t enough to lift my spirits. I decided I needed to climb Atalaya, 9200’, about seven miles round trip. It was one of the first mountain hikes I did after moving to Santa Fe in 2001 and remained a challenge even when I was well. I set a target date—the last Wednesday in August.
On a sunny summer morning I packed my gear, shoved my doubts and cant’s into my mind’s refuse bin and set off. As I started toward the steepest part of the trail, I bent over and began chanting: “Don’t worry about the steep part. Don’t worry about the steep part.” Totally engrossed in chanting, not looking where I was going, I bumped into two women, a mother and daughter, who had been watching me with amusement, wondering if I’d really thump into them. Embarrassed, I showered them with apologies. The more I apologized the harder they laughed.
I felt I owed them an explanation. I don’t usually hike with my head down, not paying attention to where I’m going. They listened to what I’d been through and supported my effort to climb Atalaya. I told them, even though it was a lie, that if I just got to the part where the steep and less steep trails meet, I’d feel okay. The daughter, a junior in high school told me she and her mother hiked regularly and invited me to join them. I told her they’d better go ahead, that I’d be too slow for them. They insisted I go with them, that they’d let me set the pace.
When we got to the place where the two trails met, I stopped to take a drink, not sure I had the energy to keep going. The daughter said, “You’re not going to stop here, are you? I’m sure you can make it to the top.” I wasn’t at all sure, but her encouragement was manna to my soul. Without waiting to hear my worries, the mother started up, the daughter got behind me, and before I could verbalize my fears, she was telling me about her life as we hiked up the steep incline. Listening to her stories distracted me from focusing my mind on the steepness of the trail. They were both in very good shape and I’m sure they didn’t need the frequent rest stops and water breaks, but they did both with such seeming innocence and caring, all I felt was gratitude.
When we made it to the top of Atalaya, I could hardly believe I’d done it. The two of them were cheering and hugging me. People resting at the top wanted to know why we were hugging and laughing. Much to my embarrassment the daughter told them about my having been so sick and my determination to hike to the top. The hikers responded with hugs and cheers and chocolate.
Fatigue and depression gave way to joy. I told the mother and daughter they were my mountain angels, that I couldn’t have made it to the top without their caring and support. The daughter laughed. “You can bump into us any time. We’re always happy to help.”
Have you experienced unexpected help in a time of healing? What was that like for you?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.