The week before we flew out of Alaska, it seemed to be a good idea to climb a mountain. The weather was beautiful and the kids really wanted to do something uniquely Alaskan, so we grabbed a couple of their friends and I drove us up to Flattop mountain while Mr. Safek worked.
Climbing a mountain is a lot like running a long distance race. It does no good to keep looking up at how far you have to go, but sometimes it helps to look back at how far you’ve come. There are so many life lessons in that, but as we climbed, I was more focused on trying to figure out where the trail was and not slipping on ice and snow and falling off the mountain. We were about 3/4 of the way up when I began to realize something wasn’t right. My muscles were tired from the climb, but I was handling it well. I didn’t feel out of breath and yet, I began to feel dizzy and then my vision began to go. I stopped and laid down against the rocks as the world faded, wondering even if I should say Shema or tell my children I loved them.
Finally, the world came back to me. I ate a granola bar and we decided to climb back down. Ironically, the kids all admitted that they had wanted to turn back already, but didn’t want me to be disappointed!
All the way back down, I tried to figure out what was wrong. I had been running 6 miles each week, so I really thought I should have been able to handle this climb. Was I really that out of shape? Was something more serious wrong? We went home and instead of stretching, I curled up in bed to rest.
By evening, the cause of my problems on the mountain was clear. I had the beginnings of an upper respiratory infection. It’s likely the stress of the climb plus the altitude meant that my body wasn’t able to get the oxygen it needed. Another thing was also clear…by not stretching and doing that climb I’d somehow really messed up my lower back.
By trying to climb too high, too fast, I’d set myself back further than when I’d begun.
There wasn’t much time to rest my back, besides Shabbos and then we were packing and moving, getting our bags ready for the airport. Our plan counted on me being able to carry my share. In retrospect, it suddenly seemed selfish that I’d tried to climb a mountain, putting myself in danger of an injury right when my family needed me whole and healthy. Now, I was in pain and sick, hauling bags with my face set in grim determination.
We left Alaska just as the sun was beginning to dim, near midnight. Our dog was in the cargo hold and I worried about him all night through the long flight. I spent the flight going to the bathroom to blow my nose, hoping my ears would pop and trying to stretch to ease the pain in my back. By the time we drove to our new home, I could barely walk and was cranky, but glad to be there.
That was one week ago today.
Since then, Mr. Safek has flown back to Alaska to drive the Uhaul with our stuff down and is already nearly here, not sleeping much on the trip. I’ve been working with a chiropractor and physical therapy to fix my back and I started back at work this week at my job, working remotely. Our son has settled into the rhythm of daily minyans (prayer services) and both kids have made friends. I’ve found myself a part of a real community, with Shabbos invitations and new connections and I’ve also found myself having to exercise some humility and accept help when it is offered.
Sometimes, we have to come down from climbing the mountain in order to make a better attempt.
Our conversion process is paused while we complete the move, but I’ve been told not to buy or use any kitchen stuff that can’t be kashered and that as soon as we have our final conversion timeline we’re going to also need to plan a wedding. It doesn’t look like the uphill climb is going to slow or stop soon.
And…just when I thought I had kosher down, we need to adjust to living in a community that keeps Cholov Yisroel and Pas Yisroel. I feel like I’m learning all over again after 7 years of keeping kosher with OU dairy being just fine.
The thing about climbing a mountain is that you just have to keep climbing. It’s not possible to keep walking straight ahead…you either have to choose to climb higher, or descend.
In our new home, we’re still climbing, but it no longer feels quite like we’re climbing alone.