The Mountain Before Us

By Kiley Dorton - September 28, 2016

Edmund Hillary, who was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest along with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, later said the following:

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

He also said:

When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them.

Today, we have a mountain before us. Yet we have exhausted ourselves at its base, cowering beneath its icy heights. Immobilized. Frightened. Powerless.

For many, the mountain is Trump. For others, the mountain is Clinton. For the families and friends of the 14 unarmed black men and 1 unarmed black woman who have been shot and killed by police this year, the mountain is an entire justice system and the loss of someone who should still be here with them today. For one in three children under age five in Yemen, the mountain is extreme malnourishment. For doctors in Aleppo, the mountain is providing medical care without necessary supplies, medicines, or any sense of safety. For over two hundred families in Nigeria, the mountain is your missing daughter or sister — taken by Boko Haram two years ago and never found. You have your own mountain. I have my own mountain.

Do not lose another day to inaction, worry, and fear. Take the first step. Do that, and you conquer a small piece of the mountain within yourself. Your worry. Your fear. You conquer it one step at a time, until you conquer it all.

The mountains before us are the great challenges that will define our character — as a nation, as communities, and as individuals. Helen Keller describes this odd fact of life quite well:

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

So if you fear a Trump presidency, embrace that fear for what it is: a mountain, waiting to be conquered. If you do nothing, the mountain will not simply vanish. The only way to conquer it is to take action. To stand up. Get moving. Overcome the fear or disbelief, and take a step.

Whether or not you support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it is an excellent example of action. Standing up. Not watching from a screen in disbelief or fear. Getting outside, making sure the message is heard just as loudly by those who want to hear it as it is by those who don’t want to hear it. For the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the mountain is real, and we will climb it together one step at a time. Don’t stop climbing.

Perhaps your mountain is more personal. A close relationship or even within your own mind. Your first step in conquering it may be to talk to someone. Tell them about your mountain. Do not let the challenge it brings you go unconquered — with the right help you will find yourself standing at the summit. Remember, Ed Hillary didn’t climb Everest alone.

Let’s put the posts of despair and hopelessness behind us. They won’t help us conquer the mountain before us, and they certainly won’t help anyone else. Despair and hopelessness are contagious diseases. Spreading them will paralyze you and everyone near you before you take a single step.

On the other hand, if you find anger or fear welling up within you, use it. Channel it into courage, determination, and action. Those are contagious as well. Spreading them will energize you and everyone near you.

Are we not a nation of mountain climbers? Have we not climbed a dozen mountains before, many of which were much greater than the ones we face today? The mountain before us now is not in a history book, it rose from the ground before our very eyes. It will not go away. It will not be climbed by anyone else. Conquering it requires us to act. The mountain before us will be in the history books our children read, and they will be reading about how we conquered it.

It’s time for us to stand up, place our foot on the incline, take one step, then another, and then another. We will climb the mountain before us, and we will never look back.