May 14, 2013
ERIK’S GIFT: Reach!
By Cheryl A. Cutting
“Reach!” Erik called down to Alia.
“But I’m afraid,” she called back.
“Maybe you’re afraid for the wrong reason,” he hollered patiently, and smiled down at her. “You’ll never know what you can touch unless you reach!”
Alia took a deep breath, mustered all of her courage and reached out towards Erik; when their hands met he pulled her the rest of the way up onto the wide ledge.
Most of the other mountaineers in their group kept climbing, but Erik and his friend Jeff sat down with Alia and waited while she caught her breath. The view from this far up the mountain was spectacular but Alia couldn’t appreciate the beauty because she was too busy talking about how difficult and scary it was to get there.
Erik sat quietly listening to her for a while before he finally spoke. “Whether you are climbing this mountain, or climbing the mountain of your life, you still have to reach out and take risks to get to the summit.
The good news is the view from the peak will be even more spectacular because you were willing to challenge yourself to get there.”
“But what if I fall?” She asked seriously.
“We all fall sometimes,” was Erik’s reply. “But if we learn something each time we fall we can use the lessons to help us the next time we reach out. Even more importantly though is to surround ourselves with good people. If we do, they will be there to help us when we stumble; just like you, Jeff and I are roped together on this climb to help keep each other safe. Then if we fall we won’t fall as far.”
Alia sat quietly thinking about Erik’s words for a long time. It occurred to her she was climbing a mountain and a blind man who had climbed all of the tallest mountains in the whole wide world was helping her to do it, so he probably knows what he’s talking about.
“How old were you when you lost your sight?” Alia asked, hoping the question wasn’t rude.
“Thirteen,” replied Erik.
“THIRTEEN years old?!” Alia exclaimed. “That’s just a little bit older than I am now! But you still climb mountains, kayak big rivers, go paragliding, skiing and travel on adventures all over the world!”
“Alia,” Erik answered patiently, “I lost my sight, but not my vision of what I want to do with my life.”
She thought about this as she tossed pebbles off the ledge and watched them tumble towards the valley below, then she told him: “My friend, Bucky, taught me about finding my vision and how important it is.”
“He’s right,” Erik said. “If you have a clear vision it’s easier to make brave choices to reach where you want to go.”
“How did you find your vision?” Alia asked.
“Well, losing my sight actually helped me find it,” said Erik with a smile.
“You’re kidding, right?” She liked how she could talk with him in the same easy way she talked to her big brother.
“No, really,” he replied. “We each have a choice to let adversity stop us or motivate us; I decided to let my challenges motivate me.”
“What do you mean?” Alia asked looking puzzled.
“As we climb the mountain of life there will be tough times along the way,” Erik told her. “We don’t get a choice about having difficult times but we do get to choose whether our challenges will make us give up our vision or if we’ll find a way to use them to help us move forward.”
“But I’m just a kid,” Alia replied. “It’s harder when you’re a kid.”
“Well, if you think you won’t make it to the top of the mountain then you probably won’t,” Erik replied. “The good news is you have another option; you can look for possibilities instead, and when you do you’ll usually find them.
“How do you do it?” Alia wanted to know.
“If you focus with your eyes on how difficult something is then all you’ll see is obstacles,” he said. “But if you look from your heart for what might be possible in spite of the challenges then everything changes.”
She stood and turned to look up the mountain at the steep climb still ahead of them. It looked difficult and scary but she was beginning to understand what Erik was talking about.
“So, if I look with my eyes I’ll only see what is in front of me, but if I look with my heart I’ll see what might be possible?” Alia asked.
“Exactly,” he said. “This strategy won’t guarantee you’ll always get it right the first time, but if you change the way you think about adversity you’ll have fewer challenges and a better chance of success.
“Bucky taught me challenges can be good teachers,” said Alia. “He also said if my vision is clear my journey will be easier, but why do you think this is?” she asked Erik.
“Because if your vision is clear you can see what you’re reaching for,” he replied.
“So what now? Where do I go from here?” she asked her friend.
“Just keep climbing, Alia. Find your vision and reach for it!” Erik told her.
“But how do I know what to reach for?” asked Alia.
This was Erik’s reply: ”Reach inside yourself for the strength you’ll need to climb. Reach over obstacles as they arise. Reach up to what is possible even when it seems impossible. Reach out to those around you for support on your expedition because your best chance for success is to team up with other good people along the way. If you are willing to do all of this then you’ll reach your way up to an extraordinary life.”
“Wow, Erik!” said Alia. “Do you really think I can do all of that?”
“I’m certain you can,” he assured her.
“Well it helps to know I don’t have climb alone,” she said thoughtfully.
“You are definitely not alone,” he replied with a big smile.
With these final words, she reached out her hand to him, and they continued their climb up the mountain with Erik’s friend, Jeff guiding them both. Roped up and working together they all reached the summit in the bright of the noonday sun.
As Alia stood looking out at the vastness before her she realized Erik was right – the view was more spectacular from the peak of the mountain and it was worth the challenges it took to get here.
© Cheryl Cutting 2012
This is a fictional story about a real gift of wisdom I received from my friend, Erik Weihenmayer. I hope you enjoyed reading this gift as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. Remember Erik’s advice: reach out every chance you get, stay open and learn to look with your heart so you can truly see all the wonderful possibilities awaiting you on your journey.