“Yak attack!” Our morning yoga in the brilliant sunshine is briefly disturbed as a young member of the yak herd wanders into the midst of our morning yoga. OK, perhaps the term “yak attack” is a little melodramatic. Fortunately, the young yak is more afraid of us than we are of him. He’s just one of the many reminders that we are not in Iowa anymore.
Before we begin our journey from Dengboche to Chukung today, I share a poem from John O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us titled, “A Blessing of Angels.”
May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
To come alive to the eternal within you,
To all invitations that quietly surround you.
May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds
Into sources of refreshment.
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
Where you life is domesticated and safe,
Take you to the territories of true otherness.
Our group is getting used to journeying to the “territories of true otherness” and we welcome the invitation for more. We follow the Imja River up to the village of Chukung. It’s a beautiful hike with a gradual ascent. The sky is clear and we are rewarded with views of the major peaks of the Himalaya. Yesterday Mary, a caregiver from Minnesota, was feeling great and helped support Richard, a 62 year-old cancer survivor on his climb to the top of Nangkar Tshang peak. Today, Mary is struggling. She had awakened in the middle of the night with diarrhea and nausea. She’s a real trouper today, but everyone can see that each step is a struggle.
Justin, a 28 year-old brain cancer survivor is at her side offering her words of encouragement and a rock star smile that should brighten anyone’s day. Prior to this journey, we had received some written words of encouragement from members of our previous Above + Beyond expeditions to share with the current hikers during times of difficulty. Justin pulls out a message that was sent to us from “The Farmer’s Wife”, a 63 year-old breast cancer survivor who had summited Mount Kilimanjaro with us in January. She wrote, “I remember the night when it seemed that I could not go on and would have to go back down the mountain. I am so thankful for the kind help and encouragement of my team members. Because of them I found new strength and was able to reach the summit. If you are feeling that you have used your last ounce of strength and you don’t have another step left in you, borrow courage from someone to keep going and pass that courage on to someone else when you are able. Savor each moment – event the difficult ones.”
Hearing Justin read the Farmer’s Wife’s words brings comfort to Mary, along with the hugs of support of her fellow travellers. Mary and our entire group of 36 cancer survivors and caregivers arrive in Chukung in time for lunch. Chukung is at an altitude of 15,500 feet. We will rest today and then climb an 18,200-foot peak tomorrow. Our home for the next two days is Panorama Lodge. The Sherpa family that own and operate the lodge have 2 young sons, Paljor, age 4 and Wanchu, age 3. They greet us as we enter the courtyard outside the lodge. Paljor and Wanchu are full of energy and enjoy the opportunity to engage us in play. We begin with a soccer game in the courtyard. I’m sure that all of us enjoyed the game even more than the boys. They obviously have had the opportunity to interact with many visitors from around the world. We’re surprised by their command of the English language. They delight us in reciting the alphabet, counting and naming every color we point to.
As we sit down for lunch, Kristen, a 22 year-old leukemia survivor, attracts Paljor and Wanchu’s attention. Kristen is an artist and she delights the boys by drawing pictures of each of them and even creates images of them riding dinosaurs. We all take turns playing with our newfound friends.
We all enjoy a relaxing afternoon of reading and writing. As I’m catching up on my journal writing, one of our group comes to inform me that our little friend Wanchu has developed a nosebleed. I find Wanchu with blood dripping from his left nostril. He welcomes my attention. I pick him up in my arms and gently apply pressure to his nose. The bleeding stops quickly, but Wanchu remains quiet and still in my embrace. We’re outside in the warm sunshine with the splendor of the Himalaya surrounding us. A 3 year-old boy is sound asleep in my arms. I enjoy this unexpected connection with our host Sherpa family. Paljor sleeps soundly in my arms for 15 minutes. His mother appears in the doorway. She smiles kindly and I tenderly transfer Paljor to her waiting arms.
After dinner this evening, we have a group meeting to discuss our itinerary for the next several days. Tomorrow we will be climbing a mountain just behind our lodge. It an 18,200-foot peak called Chukung Ri. Everyone is experiencing the effects of altitude to some extent. Some experience nausea; others experience headaches or shortness of breath; we all experience fatigue. There is apprehension, anxiety and excitement about tomorrow. 18,200 feet is definitely HIGH. Know one knows for sure how their body will response at that altitude. We discuss the fear that some of the group is experiencing. Fortunately, we have a secret weapon – the higher purpose that has brought us together.
Ruth, a 64 year-old sarcoma survivor who has lost her left arm to her cancer, shares a story with the group. It’s the allegorical tale of Little Much Afraid, an orphan girl born with two crippling disfigurements. She’s been raised by the Fearling family, not a very positive environment. She works for the kind and strong Chief Shepard. She longs to go with him to the high places, where “perfect love casteth out fear and everything that torments.” He is eager to grant her desire. He provides her with two travel companions, describing them as good teachers. Their names are Sorrow and Suffering. She discovers that by holding their hands she is able to achieve her goal. The moral of the story is that you must hold hands with sorrow and suffering in order to move forward toward your goal. You don’t always get to choose your path and you never travel alone.
Ruth’s story resonated with the group. None of them know if they will be able to climb this mountain tomorrow, they all know that it will be difficult, but they also know that trying to climb the mountain has the potential to positively affect their lives forever. There will be some sorrow and suffering tomorrow. They will be good teachers. None of us will travel alone.