I am thankful I discovered a new way to view mountains I encounter in life. Like many other people, I used to only see the trees and boulders blocking my way. I stood before the imposing sight and wondered how I, or anyone else, would ever have the strength to overcome this challenge. Now I realize on every mountain, hidden deep inside the rocky terrain, there is a smoother, less demanding path. Stand before your mountain. Look at the paths in front of you. Do not fear the intimidating height and overwhelming challenge. When you are nearing the top, reflect in awe over your accomplishments. You are conquering the mountain you once feared. At every plateau, take time to regain your balance. Smile and acknowledge the gratitude you feel from this accomplishment.
These mountains I’ve discovered have been both figurative and literal. I found myself waking up in a hospital bed having my body bruised and battered from the electrical attack seizures created in my brain. I celebrated my ten-year high school reunion not playing the night away; instead, I was resting in a bed partially paralyzed due to a stroke. Years later, I was 7,000 feet up the side of a mountain armed with a strong stick helping me walk and weak ankle wrapped in an air cast. I have come to realize fear and dread can develop into an overwhelming sense of hope and accomplishment. Climbing the path on these mountains is not easy. Finding strength to stand again is not simple. I have learned to accept it never will be. Self-confidence and joy found when you walk independently out of a hospital or gaze over the rugged terrain breathless and exhausted, observing the magnificent view, would never be experienced if not for the diligence to climb these mountains. Personal pride could never have been experienced if I were to have said, “This trial is too hard. Walk on without me.”
While accepting the challenge of mountains, I have found great joy in discovering my own previously unacknowledged strengths. I now challenge you to seek this benefit from difficult life experiences you were not expecting to encounter. On June 25, 2003, I went into pre-surgery at 5:15am. I woke later that day unable to move half my body displaying a smile that could only lift half my face. That day my journeys in life unexpectedly diverged. I knew I had a choice to make. I could lay there with the knowledge my life would forever be negatively changed and accept the grim outcome printed on so many fliers to inform me about stroke recovery. Or, I could accept that mountains sometimes come from unexpected events but can be overcome with hope developed from unfaltering optimism. Consciously making this choice would allow me to obtain progress that others would be compelled to write about – progress no one could have ever dreamed of- and defining hope that would inspire others around the world. Eight years later I am still celebrating this latter choice I had made. In the words of Robert Frost from his poem “The Road Not Taken”, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”