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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

mountain climbing with a monkey on your back

The ache in your legs in unbearable; its heat mirrors the cacophony of torches exploding behind your eyes. The monkey, black and snarling, hangs off your shoulders, its overlong nails cutting fiercely through your sinews and tissues; it raps on the bones, making a percussion at once terrible and beautiful,  but beautiful only to you. You know that to others it would be garish. You know that it is garish, and you want it to end.

The mountain before you is perfect, the quintessence of mountains. Its slopes are exact, its point glistens in the milky rays of the moon, also perfect. You have come so far, so close to collapse, or worse, time and time again, but here is the mountain. And here are you, at its base. It is not cold yet, but you know it will be, and your clothes are rags. Your mother once sang you a lullaby about a ragamuffin stealing bread, and now you know what it means; you understand why the ragamuffin steals, why the ruffian bites, why the tycoon sneers. It is the monkeys, the hordes of aping warmongers, seemingly ageless, that ride their backs tirelessly. You understand them now, as -- certainly -- you finally understand yourself.

Go, the trees command you. And you do; step by step, you begin to scale the mountain. Your hands slip, covered over with grime and sweat, but your feet do not falter. And all the while that terrible tapping, that horrendous display of fireworks behind your eyes. The need that you cannot satiate, the need that drives you higher and higher is enigmatic. It does not matter what I seek, you hear yourself think, only that I seek it. And so you climb, and you know the air is thinning. You can feel it sear your chest, feel the lightness in your head; the torches are so bright now!

But they are not torches any longer. No, you realize. They are lanterns. And they seem to stretch forward to the moon atop the mountain peak. If you can reach the moonlight, you know, you will be safe. Your fear seems indomitable, and so, too, that monkey on your back. What a bitter cliche, you think. But this is only a dream, and cliches are allowed in dreams. You know it is meant to teach you something, and yet you know that if you fail here, fail this imaginary feat of mountaineering, you will fail forever.

The wind chills your body to the bones, more ruthless, even, than the nails of the black thing that leers up at the back of your head. You capture lanterns as you walk. One, two, three, four, five -- you count them as the shining motes slip within your grasp. There must be hundreds, hundreds if not thousands of these lights. But the pain in your shoulders insists you continue, despite the answering pain in your chest and in your legs.

It is a herculean effort, but you begin to see snow. It is also lighted by the moon. It looks like granules of silver fire, and you remember the way you used to believe in magic. Perhaps you still do. You hope that you still do. It is only magic that will free you, after all.

Reaching the top of the mountain is not transcendent. You collapse, exhausted upon the stones, and you sleep sound as death. The moon is your final lantern, so close you could reach out and take hold of its powdery luminescence, but you do not have the strength for that. So you fall into oblivion instead, and you do not wake until high noon.

But as you start down the mountain, on its other side now and with the ocean waves in sight, you notice the monkey is gone. That, indeed, you took your baptism by fire--no, not fire: light. And it is the light in your eyes, when you finally see your reflection gazing up from a mountain pool, that convinces you a new time has come.


Thank you to all those who have shown me this year how to face, and overcome, challenges--particularly those terrible challenges that spring from within us.

May you find peace in 2013, and, as always:

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.