The clouds decide to linger a bit longer this morning. Up until now, every morning has started out bright and sunny. This morning, however, our mountain friends, Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam decide to remain under their cloud covers and get a couple extra hours of sleep.
Not us! We’re up and dressed and ready to go. After breakfast we assemble in the open area in front of the monastery for our morning stretch. Dina leads us in a yoga workout and then Judith takes us through some Tai Chi movements followed by a brief meditation. While we stand together meditating in front of the monastery, the clouds begin to recede and our mountain friends show us their morning faces.
I share a reading form John O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us. It’s called, “For Belonging.”
May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.
We’re off to Dengboche. Today’s hike will take us above the tree line and above most vegetation. At the end of the day, we’ll be in a small village at 14,350 feet with nothing but sky and mountains in all directions.
We enjoy the last bit of shaded trail as we leave Tengboche. Just outside of Tengboche is a small women’s monastery. Many of us take the time to stop and visit. Compared to the main monastery in Tengboche, this monastery is tiny. There is one small room with brightly colored tapestries, Buddha statues, hanging drums and burning candles. There is one female monk at the monastery today; we learn that the others have gone to a different village for a ceremony. Our host is a young woman from Tibet. She has very short hair and looks quite young.
Annie, a 49 year-old thyroid cancer survivor from Georgia, comments on some photographs on he wall. She had been wondering if a woman could ever become a Lama in the Buddhist religion. From what we see in the photos and from what we learn in speaking to the female monk with the translation assistance of one of our Sherpas, it appears that the Buddhists are more progressive then some western religions.
Our trail today follows the Dudh Cosi River as we continue up the mountain. We have the opportunity to cross a few more suspension bridges as we ascend. This morning I walk with Laurie, a 50 year-old vascular surgeon from Des Moines who is on this journey as a caregiver. It’s wonderful to have additional medical support on this journey and Laurie’s positive and optimistic demeanor adds energy to the group.
I notice that Laurie has a green prayer flag attached to the back of her pack. There is a photograph of a young woman with shortly cropped hair and a big smile. Beneath the photo is the name “Michelle.” Laurie tells me that Michelle is her sister. She had an aggressive sarcoma involving her left femur. She underwent intensive chemotherapy for 3 months and then underwent a radical surgery that removed the tumor along with two-thirds of her femur and one-third of her tibia. After reconstruction and months of rehabilitation she was able to walk again. For years she lived in near-certain fear that her cancer would recur. She is now 5 years cancer-free and life is good.
As we ascend above the tree line we are in a different world. We are walking on a rocky trail and the earth beside the trail becomes tundra-like with scant spongy ground cover. There are a few homes along the trail. Barley is on the roof drying in the sun. Yak dung-patties are spread on rocks near the homes. These will serve as fuel. Most of the gardens have been harvested by now, but there are still potatoes to be dug and a few heads of cabbage remain in the gardens.
The Himalayan range spreads out before us. Everest beckons ahead of us and Ama Dablam provides an ever-changing view as we circle around the west side of her. There is a solitary eagle circling in the sky above us. I walk for a while with Kathy H, a 46 year-old breast cancer survivor. I notice that she has also has a prayer flag on her backpack. There’s a photograph of Father Ed on the flag. Ed was Kathy’s uncle and also a Catholic priest. He died of acute leukemia in 2009 at the age of 66. Ironically he died on Oct 6th, the same date that we are schedule to summit Imja Tse, the 20,000-foot peak that will culminate this journey.
Father Ed was Kathy’s favorite uncle. He was the “funnest and coolest” uncle ever. He was an artist, a pilot, a golfer and a good friend. Ironically, on this journey there is a Catholic priest – niece combination. Father Frank, a 72 year-old prostate cancer survivor is here with his niece, Annie, a 49 year-old thyroid cancer survivor. Kathy can’t help watching Father Frank and Annie enjoy each other’s company and think that it would have been wonderful for her to have done this trip with her Uncle Ed. Tears fill her eyes as she thinks about an incredible journey that will never happen. She knows that summiting Imja Tse will be an emotional experience for her.
We arrive at Dengboche in mid-afternoon. We’re greeted by Mingma, the Sherpa lady who owns and operates the Snow Lion Lodge. She has a beautiful smile and offers us tea. She was on a Nepali woman’s expedition that climbed to the summit of Mount Everest about 8 years ago. Sherpa woman are amazing and Mingma is even more amazing than most.
After dinner this evening, Justin, a 28 year-old brain cancer survivor and former lead singer in a rock band, pulls out his guitar and performs a concert and sing-a-long for us. His talent, energy and generous spirit keep us all smiling. Before long, our Sherpa staff joins us for the entertainment. They love to sing-a-long, regardless of whether they know the words. Justin ends the “show” with a spontaneous creation about our head Sherpa, Lhakpa, and our innkeeper, Mingma. It’s a silly song, but it brings roars of laughter and cheers from the crowd every time he sings their names. No matter how distant and different our cultures may appear to be, music and laughter can bridge the gap.