Our original intention was not to climb the mountain, rather it was to take the Gondola up and walk down the 3 mile, 3,000 foot elevation change. The $52.00 price tag changed our minds and so did the perky young attendant, “Oh, I climbed the mountain yesterday and it only took an hour and a half.” To this we replied, “We’re old, how long do you think it would take us?” Suffice it to say, we were like the little train who thought we could, and thus began our assent to the top of Mt. Vail.
According to Junior, the first leg of the trip was the most difficult. We were not only cheap, but cheap suckers as we nodded our heads in tandem at this ridiculous proposal. Save a dime, but perhaps risk making the evening news: “Deluded Phoenix Woman Airlifted Off Mountain.”
Commencing our hike at a daunting 8,300 foot elevation was like starting the journey with only one lung. I took about forty steps and felt like I was gasping for air out of a straw. I gazed longingly down the mountain at the gelato shop, and with a begrudging snort advanced onward.
Only 2,975 more feet to climb to the top of the 10,300 foot summit… I wondered how many people had heart attacks along the way and when I would start seeing the memorials.
I’m not going to lie, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. As the minutes turned to hours I found myself wanting to quit and turn back about every fifteen feet. You do the math. It was just so hard.
Ahh, and here is where I had an epiphany as I prodded myself, step by step, painful breath by painful breath. The “narrow path” is arduous and grueling.
It’s funny how God teaches us as we journey in this thing called life. The path that traversed across this mountain was surrounded by beauty to be sure, but it was also treacherous if you didn’t pay attention. There were stones to trip over, fine dust as slippery as ice, and roots that caught your feet just when you thought you were clear. Every time we finished a path that seemed to touch the sky, we assumed it would get easier. We were wrong.
Life is like that too.
We encountered a variety of folk on the path as we meandered upward. Most smiled and walked by us like we were standing still. Those were the people who were conditioned through practice and perseverance. In the spiritual work, one might liken them to the saints. They were tested and tried in the fire of love through adversity. It wasn’t like the path was any easier for them than it was for us, but because they were in proper shape they traversed it more effortlessly.
We also ran into two women who had chosen the path we had initially rejected, by taking the easy ride up and walking down. One of the women was completely covered in fine dust because the steep incline and unexpected turns caused her to lose her footing, tumbling over the roots, and face-planting into the dirt. Life can be like that slippery slope too, we can think there is an easier route, one that isn’t so difficult and demanding, and yet we can easily lose control and crash.
There are no easy paths or lives devoid of pain or trial or adversity. God the Father tells St. Catherine of Siena, “…for no one can pass through this life without a cross…”
Jesus further reminds us in Matthew chapter seven, “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” The paths that lead up this mountain were narrow and there was usually only enough room for one to pass at a time.
“Those that find it are few.”
These words should wake us up from our relativistic banter that suggests we are all ‘good enough” to make it to heaven and God is just a good guy who really wouldn’t send anyone to hell. In The Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena it reads, “Thus, no one has any excuse, because both reproof and truth are constantly given to them. Therefore if they do not amend while they still have time, they will be condemned …”
None of this is meant to cause us to despair, but rather to seek to reorient our lives if they have drifted off course. Even God “wishes nothing but our good” but there is this little caveat we must recall: free-will. Everything is a choice, and even those in hell chose it freely. It is only at the end of the narrow road that you find heaven, total bliss, eternal communion with God and happiness beyond your wildest imagination.
Like our hike, life can leave us exhausted, breathless, and feeling defeated. But I urge you; press onward because the reward is far greater than any mountain top.