Sunday, January 1, 2012

the sun still shines when you're not around

Here's the truth: we are all replaceable. Try this: walk away. For a month, a year, whatever. Even leave Hurricane Katrina-like chaos behind you. Come back after awhile. See that the spaces you left behind have filled in. You probably won't even be able to tell where they were in the first place.

Fire people have a hard time learning this. We hate to miss anything. Rumors of lightning will keep us hanging around town. Seeing a smoke column, or worse, the helicopter flying over, when we're on days off, can give us fits of remorse, even if we had a wonderful time not working.

I used to have a hard time leaving. What if there was a fire? What if the holy grail of assignments, helicopter manager in Hawaii, came through? (Still waiting on this one).  Even during the off-season, I worried: what if there was an important aviation issue? What if one of my crewmembers needed a copy of their master record?

Four years ago I had to leave. My marriage was falling apart; there was nothing to save. So I did what any sane person would do. I went to Nepal. By myself.

In Nepal, nobody cared that I was in charge of an aviation program back home. To the street vendors in Thamel, I was another, presumably rich tourist. "Marijuana, ma'am?" they asked hopefully as I walked down the street, or, "Shoe shine?" even though I wore running shoes. To the group of British people I joined for a three week hike and climb, I was another trekker, albeit with a funny accent and odd eating habits. "Namaste, didi (hello, sister)," the Sherpas and porters said as I passed them on the trail, as they  said to hundreds of other clients. I didn't have any responsibilities. All I had to do was walk, pack my gear in the morning, and keep up with my rope team. There were no meetings, plans to write, or people to supervise. Nobody needed me.

Mera Glacier

On summit day, we climbed the Mera glacier. I followed Faye, making sure to keep the right amount of slack in the rope between us. It was too cold and windy to stop much so we kept walking, our crampon points biting into the snow. I didn't think about fire as I ascended the fixed rope. Whatever was happening at home would go on without me. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

From the summit of Mera Peak; Mt. Everest in the distance

Lightning strikes; fires grow and die whether we are there to see it happen or not. People walk in and out of your life. Usually there's nothing you can do about it. So you might as well go to your Nepal, whatever yours is. If the stars all align, I'm going back there soon to climb another mountain. Stay tuned.

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