Crucible

28 08 2011

I need words tonight. Some outlet for the chaos in my gut.

Ironic, then, that I just spent the evening surrounded by friends who have seen the worst I have to offer and come back for more…and it wasn’t until I was alone that I had anything to say. Goodness, do I ever have things to say.

My therapist, God love him, tells me I am now entering the fire, the crucible, where the dross of my soul will be identified, separated, discarded. He says this as a statement of fact: inviolable, inevitable. That I’ve done it all before and know exactly what will be asked of me only makes it all the more terrifying.

Once upon a time, my crucible was physical. A freshman in high school, I was newly infatuated with this thing called “backpacking”–you mean, using nothing but the power of your own legs, taking nothing you weren’t willing to carry on your own back for dozens of miles, you can get to alpine lakes of neverending depth, meadows bursting with wildflowers, and stars in their billions?! I’m never going home–and, even more so, with the supreme confidence, and joy, and flourishing that my Wilderness Expeditions heroes and heroines seemed to effortlessly embody. I lived summer to summer those years, with every moment between my mountainous adventures dull and meaningless by comparison. But I digress. That year, the crucible came in the form of a ridge straight from hell: 3000 feet of vertical ascent in less than a mile, after a full 12 miles of hiking under the relentless Colorado sun. Being young and in shape (and an utter fool) I figured in for a penny, in for a pound–I wasn’t just going to climb The Crucible, I was going to run up it. With 50 pounds strapped to my back. And no water to speak of.

Did I also mention I hated myself more than a little that week? I don’t remember why (something to do with porn?), but I do remember saying to myself “Tom, you may be a pathetic failure back home, but on the mountain you have the chance to make up for it. Run all the way to the top now and you will be worthy of forgiveness. Fail and you will always be a nothing, a liar, deserving of hell.”

My legs gave out beneath me a hundred yards from the top.

My therapist, God bless his soul, tells me we have but one metaphor for times like these: Gethsemane. Pleading, betrayal, kenosis. Kenosis: the utter emptying of self. There’s something wretchedly therapeutic in pushing your body to the point of collapse; hearing, and then rejecting, its increasingly strident complaints until the nervous system throws a little tantrum and you’re reminded, violently–I Am Not God.

Am I crazy enough, gutsy enough, strong enough to push until the point of collapse now, when the muscle giving up will be my heart?

If I am–what then? That backpacking trip, after a few minutes of rest and a little help from my friends, I was back on my feet and pushing onward. We summited that mountain together, me and the youth group who once named me “Quiet Confidence.” Is there a summit to my life, even a false one, a simple moment where I can stand triumphant, or is there just another crucible lurking in the distance, harder and hotter than anything I could imagine tonight?

My therapist, praise God for him, tells me he knows I will not quit. He says this as a statement of fact: inexorable, irrevocable.

Sometimes I even believe him.

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