I found myself on a snowy flank of Mount Rainier with the realization that the best way to live this life is truly one step at a time. Like a song on repeat, this realization was running though my mind in attempt to regain strength in each step over the five hours of climbing through above-the-knee snow. This mantra came my way a couple years prior when I needed something to push me through challenges in my work life. I couldn’t think long-term in that season—I had to find a way to give myself short routes and celebrate the little victories. On Rainier, I felt similarly and that mantra became my motivator.
The wind was pounding us from the west, sending a mixture of snow and ice onto us with each gust. In general, my body temperature runs cold, so I especially bundled up for this climb wearing almost all the clothes I brought, considering the conditions that day. Our team had been waiting a few days to make this ascent due to the snow conditions. At one point four days earlier, we turned around because of avalanche danger. The conditions were good now, just cold and windy. Even in our snowshoes, we’d sink significantly into the snow, making every step more challenging. I kept wondering why I didn’t do more lunges. Some of the simplest movements up the mountain felt exhausting.
The week earlier, while I was living in the comforts of the suburbs, seeking to courageously take one step at a time felt relatively easy—at least I had electricity or a warm home to return to or find relief in. In the cold air on the mountain, my thoughts turned toward women in danger around the world like our Syrian sisters who needed to muster the strength for their next step—taking care of themselves, and maybe their children, finding safety, finding a way to provide for their family, trying to comprehend the hardships in their life. There were days they probably felt like they were on a cold and snowy side of a mountain, nearly hopeless and just trying to keep moving out of fear of collapse. I’ve heard stories of these women—women of strength, courage, resilience. And while I don’t know them, I feel like I do. Their stories have taught me more about the yeast that expands the dough of this world: how we treat each other matters, how we respond to our past matters, and the legacy we pass onto our community matters. The pain they are experiencing is beyond my understanding. The family or home they are fighting for is foreign to me. But how I respond is entirely important.
When you’re on a mountain, just trying your very best to survive the high winds and the biting cold, you are vulnerable to all the elements—to the earth and nature around you, to any person who may have an advantage, to the weary spirit within you that simply wants to sit down. I relied on my team that day on Mount Rainier. The smallest reassurance felt like gold. The gentle lending hand on a move I was struggling with was the most loving and thoughtful gesture. If I dropped my trekking pole, having a teammate bend down with their loaded pack and awkward snowshoes meant the world to me. They encouraged me with each step forward, and even when I felt like I was making steps backwards. We belonged to each other on the mountain. We had each other’s backs and would do whatever we could to serve one another. The least we could do was treat each other with respect and dignity, knowing that we are all working hard to defy our conditions.
Curtis and Susan Vanden Bos are climbing two volcanoes in Mexico to raise awareness for Syrian refugees. To learn more about Curtis and Susan and how you can help, click here.