It's Not Getting Up the Mountain that's the Problem....
It's How to Get Back Down
(An Homage - A Farewell)
As the reader of this blog may well know by now, I am very given to overly sentimental and symbolic actions. In order to anticipate my last few days here in Hollister before I leave for Berkeley tomorrow to go back to school, I climbed the most significant peak here in the Hollister area: Fremont Peak. As usual, I basically ran up it, trying to experience once again that cathartic rush of getting back on top again. I ran on steep paths, climbed over craggy rocks, and dodged the junk careless hikers left as a commemoration of their having been there. Finally, I reached the top and sat on the plaque that commemorates John Fremont's planting of the American flag there for the first time in the 1840's. I looked down at the various valleys below: Hollister to the east, the Salinas Valley to the south, San Juan Valley to the north, and in the distance Watsonville, Santa Cruz, and the Pacific Ocean still covered in a layer of fog. I said a prayer and reflected on how I have changed even in the past seven months since I left the monastery. But I had things to do that day, so I had to leave the mountain top. I looked down and had a moment of vertigo. How the heck was I supposed to climb down there without falling on my fat behind? Then I realized that of the few such adventures I had had, it has always been the descent that has been the tricky part.....
To tell the whole truth, this period between leaving the monastery back at the end of January and now has been a very enchanted time in my life. I have really had to struggle to even get my identity back, to earn a living and even just to have fun again. My family, as always, has helped me out a lot, and I give thanks to God every day for them. The most ironic thing is that this has been the least cosmopolitan time in my life. Save for a few trips here and there, I have made my life here in this small town, without having to chase ecclesial and ideological utopias. For the first time since I was sixteen, when I first began my quest to save the world from tyrannical capitalism, I have pretty much stayed put and made my life here nestled between the mountains that surround my hometown. I work within the area, visit the local library, work out at the gym, and go to church just down the street from my house. Everything was here, in my reach. But now it is coming to an end.
For those of you who were not raised in a small town, life here is so different and peaceful than it is elsewhere. Indeed, I have met people here who are my age and never left, and I almost envy them in many ways. The pace of their life is so serene, their dreams so modestly achievable, their attitudes so bright that this weary traveler sometimes wonders why such an exciting life had to happen to me. Even the one love interest I have had (uncorresponded, of course) I think might just be a symbol of that peaceful moment in this valley just before sundown, when the fields serve as a mirror of the last light, and the hills fade into purple silhouettes, greeting the people coming back home after a long day's work far away.
I have indeed climbed many mountains. I have been to other continents. I have dressed in an eccentric medieval manner . I have even changed my name and mutilated my identity. Each one of these was an ascent, a new height, a desperate attempt to knock on heaven's gate just one more time. The doors didn't open, and in a frantic turn of the head, I looked down and saw that I was on the edge of a precipice. And the dismount was always much harder. By far.
That is what this time in my life has been: just trying to get back down from shattered, lofty dreams. And this peaceful town, Hollister, where I grew up, where my dreams always will be no matter how far I go astray, has been a place of healing for my soul. I have had to climb down, back into the heart of Arturo Vasquez, just a simple man trying to work out his salvation in fear and trembling. Something tells me, however, that I have yet to climb my last mountain....
I planned my descent very carefully. I first started going to one side of the mountain (the one I climbed up) but then I realized that the other side, though steep, was much shorter. I sat down and tried to get good footing. I was kicking all the rocks below me to see if they could hold the weight. I didn't want to slide or lose control of my descent. I was alone and no one would see me if I got hurt. It was a pity no one was there, they missed a good laugh as I slid down that steep slope. I would just stand at some points for an entire minute to see what angle was best to go down, what footing I should use, whether the rocks were too slippery, etc. After some time, I made it down the steepest part, and the rest of the trail was smooth and downhill.
I approached a grove of trees in the camping area. I looked up and had one of "my moments". I can describe it not as prayer, nor as contemplation. Just silence, and the feeling of an absent Presence. I saw the green leaves shining in the late morning sun, and I realized how beautiful everything is. It has all been very beautiful. If I have a goal in life, it is to share in some way that beauty with others. Indeed, this blog could easily be subtitled: "Looking for a Guide to Lead a Beautiful Life." Life is short, eternity is long. So let's get on with it.