Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Real Mt. Everest

Today began with deep sea diving and ended with a trek up Mt. Everest--and all without leaving the comfort of our pajamas. Earlier in the week, Tyler and I had taken the train to Hull (residence of famed abolitionist William Wilberforce) to go through the subatarium, The Deep. While there, we saw sharks, jelly fish, blue lobsters the size of Arizona, and wolf-eels.

(The wolf-eels were hands down the absolute most remarkable. They lurk, usually, on the sea floor and crunch crab shells for food. They're gentle giants, though. And they mate for life. When the mother births eggs, she wraps her 2-meter long body around the eggs to protect them. Then, the father wraps his body around the mother to protect her and the eggs.)

Since our visit to Hull, we've been exploring the deep sea worlds of our carpet (layered with a thick blue blanket on top, along with fish masquerading as bath toys). Today, we stood atop the couch, science goggles covering faces, and invisible air tanks on our backs, and leapt into the wonders of the ocean.

Roger Priddy's Fabulous Atlas for Kids
Later, after looking through a fabulous picture-book atlas by Roger Priddy, Tyler became fascinated with Mt. Everest. Some of his friends at school are from Nepal, and Tyler immediately began what would become the days; refrain.

"Daddy, can we go to Nepal and climb Mt. Everest right now?"

"Well, to get to Mt. Everest, we have to buy place tickets, and pack our bags, and then ride our bikes to the train station, and then get a train to the airport, and then fly to Nepal--so that will tale a loooooong time!"

"Well, let's start packing our bags then, Daddy!"

I thought for a bit and then said, "Hey, let's climb Mt. Everest in our imaginations--just like deep sea diving. Come on!"

We robed ourselves in winter coats and grabbed ice picks that looked an awful lot like tree branches. Still wearing pajamas (ahem, snowsuits), we pulled our sub-zero goretex boots on and made the long trek to the Nepal at the bottom of Lesley Avenue. We hiked through the treacherous pricker bushes (ahem, ice cliffs) and narrowly escaped the pokey broken branches (AVALANCHES!) until we finally made it to the peak.

I looked at Tyler with wide eyes and a big smile. "We made it, son!"

Tyler half-smiled, then looked back at me. "Okay, but Daddy." And there was something in that Daddy that was the seed of a deeper longing. Something far more expansive. Something far more challenging. Something far more...


"Since we already did the pretend mt. Everest, can we go home and pack our bags and ride our bikes to the train station and take a train to the airplane station and take a airplane to THE REAL MT. EVEREST?"

"Well, see, the REAL MT. EVEREST is so so so far away that we need to plan way ahead."

"Daddy, what does plan way ahead mean?"

"Plan way ahead means we have to think about it a lot, and have oxygen tanks, and real ice picks, and super big boots, and super big coats."

"But Daddy, I am not very big yet, so super big boots will go over my belly button!"

Our day progressed, and we managed to make it back down the other end of the street from Nepal to our kitchen. We ate a lunch of salad, mangoes, and wheat bread and butter. After lunch, Tyler looked up at me with a half-smile.

"Daddy, now that we ate SO MUCH FOOD, can we please please please go to the REAL MT. EVEREST?"

Tyler pushed his chair back form the table, jumped down, and proceeded to show me an array of varying skills and abilities.

"See, Daddy, I am SO STRONG and I have SO MUCH ENERGY because I can jump and run and even reach up almost to the top of the sky."

After discussing the difficulty of getting to the REAL MT, EVEREST at two o' clock on a Thursday afternoon to climb it, well, that afternoon, we decided to do some research. I showed Tyler the gear people wear when they hike Everest, and we printed out a picture of the mammoth mountain so that Tyler could gaze longingly at the towering beauty as it gazed back at him from his wall.

Before we hung up the picture, Tyler asked me if I could write something on it for him.

"Sure, my man, what shall I write?"

The REAL Mt. Everest

The picture now rests proudly on Tyler's wall, right above his bed. Tyler now sleeps soundly.

However silly and ignorant Tyler's desire to climb the tallest mountain in the world, it strikes me now that we all need a dose of that kind of silliness and ignorance. There's a beautiful line from the film Amazing Grace, based on the life of William Wilberforce, when a close friend, William Pitt, announces to Wilberforce that he wants to become prime minister. Wilberforce chuckles and says, "No one our age has ever taken power." To which Pitt responds, "Which is why we're too young to realize that some things are impossible."

Ah! To hold onto that innocence which still doesn't realize that some things are impossible. I think this kind of  holding-on is, possibly, the only real ally of authentic barrier breaking. When we're at the threshold between innocence and experience, we often make the mistake of thinking that to enter one is to leave the premises of the other.

Maybe not. Maybe there's a way to move forward into experience and learning and growth and reality without totally relinquishing the dreams of youth that maturity often associates with impossibility.

Jen and I often remark to one another that if we knew, in advance, what these three years in England would entail, we would have been hard pressed to make the same choice again. Would we really have given up everything and come across the pond literally broke if we didn't think a big pot of gold was soon waiting for us. (A few months at most, surely!)

Probably not. But then we would have missed the greatest adventure of our lives. We would have missed riding bikes in the pitch black night with tiny lights clipped on front and behind, Tyler riding in a bike trailer. We would have missed pulling our wheeled luggage the two miles back and forth to the grocery store to go shopping. We would have missed seeing that even without money, the greatest joy we have ever experienced is still possible. We would have missed feeling totally broken inside, and then waking up the next morning to find that what broke the night before was only the shell, and not the seed inside.

Will Tyler and I wake up tomorrow and book a flight to Nepal?

Maybe we'll put that particular dream on hold a few decades. But in the meantime, I hope to never be a father that says it's impossible. I want to be the kind of man who looks into the bright eyes of his son and says--unequivocally--you ever hike THE REAL MT. EVEREST and I'll be at your side.