Recently, I have been spending a great deal of time hiking. It occurred to me that life is a great deal like hiking up a mountain. Trails wind and bend. Rocks, branches, and puddles often slow our ascent. Rivers and streams cut through our clear path from to time, changing our course altogether. Trees obstruct our view. There are moments when the beauty that surrounds us leaves us breathless, and times when we become so exhausted by the steep grades that we just want to quit climbing completely. Life is a great deal like hiking up a mountain.
As I walked yesterday, I found myself pondering the journey. For centuries, people have traversed nature in the hopes of finding some perfect place to exist—the greenest pastures to harvest, the stream that is teeming with gold, the safest harbor—always in search of reaching the perfect destination. It is easy to forget that we are on a journey at all. Forgetting the journey, failing to live in the moment to moment adventure is what too often gets us lost.
Each of us has his or her own unique path to travel. None of us travel alone. Our path is intersected and guided in many ways by others. I’ve come to believe that there are three types of people we confront on our journey up the mountain of life—stars, stones, and bridges.
All throughout time, people have used the stars to guide them. Stars serve as a compass. Some people in our lives are stars. They are ever present even when we cannot see them. Occasionally, a star might burn out, but there are so many still shining that we often do not feel that loss acutely. And, that is the beauty of stars. If we take a moment to look, there will always be stars to guide us and help us find our way. Many times, we take the stars for granted. We trust that they will always be there and do not take the time we should to appreciate the gifts they quietly give us each day.
Stones are the opposite of stars. Stones in our path frequently throw us off balance. They make us question the path altogether. We stumble over them, feeling ourselves begin to tumble. We puzzle over them. Some stones sit on the side of our path, and they offer us refuge for a moment. We sit on them and gather our strength before continuing forward. Others lie in the middle of the path—imposing and daunting. We ponder whether we should climb over them, go off the path to avoid them or try to move them out of our way. Stones are meant to force us to look at ourselves, to examine what we need at any moment. They test our resolve, and they teach us how to navigate adversity.
The third group of people who we will collide with on our adventure are bridges. Mountains just like life, are fed by rivers and streams. Water nourishes us, but it also represents change. It is in constant motion and often too wide and deep for us to cross without assistance. Every so often we find ourselves looking across the river of change unsure of how we will reach the other side and complete our journey. Going around the water isn’t always an option, at least not one that will keep us moving forward. In these moments, life sometimes grants us the strength and insight of a bridge.
Bridges, I think serve as one of the most significant intersections in life. They offer us an opportunity to face change head on. They strengthen us by their very presence. But, after we travel over them we often find that they have been washed away by the rapids they helped us to cross, leaving us with an odd sense of gratefulness and immense loss at the same time. Bridges are seldom meant for permanence. Like stars, they do guide us, but unlike stars, they are given to us at pivotal moments, touching us in profound, sometimes indescribable ways.
The key to loving the journey is found in an appreciation of stars, stones, and bridges as teachers. It is to look upon each with equal gratefulness. One is not more or less important than the other. Each is more than a part of our journey; they are what our journey is all about. Too often we immerse ourselves in reaching the peak—the final destination. If you have ever taken the time to hike up a mountain, you will find something interesting at the conclusion of your ascent—there is no final peak—no ultimate destination.
There is satisfaction in reaching the top of a climb, and there should be. When you reach the summit, you can look back at what you have traversed and feel a sense of accomplishment. Something else happens when you turn to look at what lies ahead—you see another set of mountains in the distance. Each mountain and every valley will be laden with stones and streams, and you will need those brilliant stars to continue to guide you.
Life is just like hiking up a mountain. It is not meant to be about reaching a destination, but rather about learning and experiencing the journey. It is a never-ending adventure. Hikers and mountain climbers enjoy the challenge of the trek upward. They learn with each climb new ways to navigate the next valley, cross the next river, and descend the occasional cliff. But, hikers and mountain climbers love the endeavor of existing in nature, with nature, they don’t seek to become its master. They revel in the relationship they share with the stars, the stones, and the bridges that take them over streams.
People often ask me how I made so many changes in my life. People also often ask me what the stories and books I write are about. This is my answer: stars, stones, and bridges. Life and stories are an adventure. Learning to be grateful for the journey rather than consumed in reaching a temporary destination makes it possible to experience life fully. And, the key to gratefulness is recognizing the connection we have to it all. We too are someone’s star, someone’s stone, and another’s bridge. Realize that, and you will find your journey becomes a tremendous adventure full of possibility and wonder rather than fear and apprehension. Look to the stars, thank the stones, marvel at the bridges and be GRATEFUL for each and every one.