I read a quote during my final year of college that has stuck with me ever since. Paraphrasing, it goes something like:
Making a quilt is difficult and takes ages. But commit to one square at a time, and eventually you'll end up with a quilt.
Hiking Angel's Landing in Zion National Park, I meditated on this idea. Each time I raised my head to look to the top I found myself overwhelmed with fear, exhaustion, thirst in the oppressive heat. Panic rose up in me each time.
Then with a heavy sigh I'd look down at my feet, at the ground beneath me, think "one step." Then one more step turned into "just make it to the top of this incline," reassuring myself the whole way that when I reached the top, I can stop and have some water, "I promise," comforting the small child within me.
At each turn, passing hikers on their way back down the trail assured my hiking partner and I that we were almost to the top. This encouragement began a few hundred feet into the hike and continued until we were actually almost to the top. At some point, a woman asked me if I was ready for the bar at the top, ready to have some beer and pizza. In my exhaustion I believed her and used her joke as fuel to continue hoisting myself onto rock ledges using the chain for support. "Just one more step," I told myself, "at the top you can have all the beer and pizza you want."
Once we reached the end, having acquired a couple other trail friends along the way, we sat to gain nourishment against the back drop of the landscape behind us. No beer or pizza, but at this point I had forgotten all Earthly pleasures. Before me was evidence of one of the most rewarding hikes I've made.
After taking some time to take it all in, peering over the ledge at the ground beneath us, allowing ourselves a few deep and dreamy sighs, we began our descent. Hikers passed us by on their way up the trail, exasperated and disheveled. "Almost there!" we told them, knowing full well that beyond each landing lay let another series of tests. When we reached the bottom, the creek finally in sight, we ran. "Almost there, almost there," we each told ourselves, searching for the access point, melting in the sun and heat. And when we finally touched the water, we rested.
This experience sticks with me. The first quilt I pieced together left me a changed person. So much time and effort had been spent up front just to measure and cut and make sure all the pieces were there before I began the slow, often mindless process of putting it together. Now, respecting the process feels obvious to me -- second nature. But before that moment, I was the type to rush through things, so eager for the final product that I missed all the fine details that come from simply honoring each step.
This hike was no different.
Looking straight to the top, seeing the feat before me, I was crushed. "There's no way I'll make it." As soon as I surrendered to the process, focusing on one step, and then the next, and the next, the end goal was simply a matter of course. "Of course I'll reach the top, I'm just going to do it one step at a time." Eventually I looked behind me and saw an entire mountain behind me.
There's no need for me to point out the multitude of life lessons in that single realization.
We take things one square at a time, one step at a time, and when we finally make our quick descent back down the path we just conquered, there will always be a rolling creek anxiously waiting to welcome us home.
As always, thanks for reading.