learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn’t just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.

mt. whitney wednesday: the infamous 97 switchbacks

Hi everyone! This post is part of my series the Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the earlier post in the series, you can read them here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, July 26, 9:02 a.m.

We have reached “Trail Camp” where hikers climbing Whitney in two days camp out overnight. It is a lot quieter up here, as desolate and barren as I imagine Mars to be. The surroundings have turned from the greens of foliage and trees to the browns and grays of rock. Finally, it actually feels like I’m climbing a mountain!

We take a short break for water and food before shouldering our packs and starting up again. Trail Camp is at the base of the switchbacks. The infamous switchbacks. There are, by actual count, 97 switchbacks covering 2.2 steep-and-jagged miles leading from Trail Camp with an elevation of 12,000 feet to Trail Crest with an elevation of 13,777 feet.

The ankle-twisting switchbacks are daunting. Those who have conquered Whitney say they are the most difficult part of the whole climb. The mountain rises above us, so immense I can’t even imagine it having a summit. Slowly we start up the first switchback, then turn and head up the second. One down, 96 more to go.

switchbacks

10:13 a.m.

Ninety-six down – trust me, I counted each and every one! – and only one more to go. Woo-hoo!

I can’t believe it. We made it up the switchbacks in only an hour! I thought it would surely take us twice that long. The switchbacks were hard, to be certain, and long and boring, but I was actually surprised to see the welcoming “Trail Crest” sign as soon as we did. I guess you get into a sort of rhythm, trudging up, up, up the mountain, one foot in front of the other, your breathing heavy and even, taking each switchback as it comes, and time goes by almost as if you are in a trance. The fun part about the switchbacks is that you feel like you really are climbing a mountain – you can look down and see the trail winding away below you, like a giant snake.

Mom and I are in our highest spirits, I think, of the whole hike so far. The rest of trail cannot be nearly so steep as the rocky and uneven staircase we just climbed. And we are only two miles away from the summit! We are so close to the top I feel as excited in anticipation as a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve night.

at trail crest