On September 9, 2017, I was awakened in my tent at two o’clock in the morning. I ate a big breakfast, put on four layers of clothing and set out for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Standing 19,341 feet above sea level, Kili is Africa’s tallest mountain and the highest free-standing peak in the world. I was accompanied by my wife, two guides and two porters carrying an oxygen tank, a portable hyperbaric chamber, an AED and a stretcher. Together we began a long, slow trek up a seemingly endless, steep, switchback trail.
Our path was lit only by the twinkle of a million distant stars and the faint glow of two headlamps. As we climbed in darkness for three hours before sunrise and close to seven hours in total, my mind kept wandering back to a passage I had written in my novel Our Dried Voices. Here is that scene as it appears in the print edition of the book:
Our Dried Voices depicts a basic choice: will you or won’t you think for yourself? It’s a question we must answer every day. And as modern technology continually makes life easier and more comfortable, it becomes more tempting to answer “No.” But as human beings with physical bodies, we face a parallel question of whether or not we will act in accordance with our thoughts, beliefs, desires and values. To refuse to act is to deny the expression of our mental lives. Likewise, refusing to think means denying the performance of meaningful acts. The two go hand in hand.
As I climbed the steep trail to Kilimanjaro’s summit, I faced the same questions Samuel does in Our Dried Voices: Yes or no? Step or stop? It was a case of life imitating art. My experience on Kilimanjaro reinforced everything I felt when I wrote that scene several years ago. I had created a goal that demanded I continually rise to meet the challenge of each step (though the stakes were much lower for me than for Samuel). I had to convince myself to keep moving despite my body’s resistance because I knew the endpoint would ultimately justify my effort.
And it did. After seven hours of climbing, we reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. That climb was one of the most incredible and fulfilling moments in my life and like Samuel’s journey in Our Dried Voices, it required me to constantly answer “Yes” to a series of mental and physical challenges.
2 thoughts on “Our Dried Voices and Mount Kilimanjaro”
Awesome. And yes, “To refuse to act is to deny the expression of our mental lives. Likewise, refusing to think means denying the performance of meaningful acts.” So much yes.
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