At breakfast that last morning, I hardly recognized some of the kids. Boys who had hidden under sunglasses and snow caps now had gelled hair and clean faces. Some of the girls had traded their sweat pants for skirts and had dug out the jewelry.
We boarded the bus a little after 9am. Though clouds covered the mountain, a bright sun and blue sky shone over us. I sat towards the front with the other chaperons, alternately chatting and gazing out the window.
As we rattled down the road, I thought through all of the places I’ve lived before Kenya: Indiana, Congo, Minnesota, Ivory Coast, North Carolina, South Africa, Morocco, Georgia, Florida … except for IN, MN, and NC it’s all been at sea level, and none of it near a significant mountain. I’ve been to Pike’s Peak in CO, but I think we drove up most of that. I’m not much of a mountain girl.
I thought through the other significant experiences in my life. Many of them have challenged me mentally, spiritually and emotionally. A few have challenged me physically. Yet this experience was unique – why?
What do you do when you are pushed to the edges of your known limits? What do you do when you are miles from help or home and you don’t know if you can keep going? I thought of Nathan moaning on the cabin floor, and the kids who tried so hard to continue but had to turn back before the summit. I thought of the girls who sat and cried a few times along the way before pushing on. I thought of the moments along the descent when I wanted to do the same. I thought of the girl – one that had struggled at the back of the group all four days – who boarded the bus at the last gate and, with tears streaming down her face, said “I made it!”
I think that, greater than any thrill of achievement or sting of failure is that which you discover in yourself along the way.
In myself, I discovered my current physical limits and a strength that was not of my making. I also rediscovered the joy of encouragement. Not only did I get to encourage the kids, but I got to see them encourage each other. I watched kids urge each other on in the tough spots; help each other over rocks and through mud; wait for each other when one needed a break. How good it is to struggle together with a friend!
As we headed back to Nairobi, I thought of a very different kind of mountain that lay before me: my second semester of teaching. There will be lessons to plan, rehearsals to run, meetings to attend, and concerts to organize. Whether any of these events will be done well, or even count for much in the end, I don’t know. My hope though is that the kids I teach and I will discover lessons of lasting value along the way.