A Lesson That Keeps on Giving, Revelation at 18,500 Feet
Sharing a personal struggle and the lesson learned from it is an incredible way to connect with others and hope that your story will connect in a way that the lesson helps someone else going through a similar situation. So once again I find myself sharing my story overcoming grief and finding my identity.
The year of 1999 was a pivotal point in my life. I was so tired of crying. That’s all I had done for the better part of six months in the aftermath of my divorce. However, the only thing the tears did was mask a deep, troubling truth that I had to face: I was lost and scared. After eighteen years of marriage, I didn’t know who I was.
My ex-husband was a pilot, and I had helped him get his career off the ground. I married him when I was eighteen. Being so young, I wasn’t confident enough to be my own person, so I played the role of the dutiful wife and supported my husband. By the time he earned his pilot’s license, I had worked three different jobs to pay for his college and flight school. I spent much of our marriage immersed in his orbit, while my own identity was barely a blip on anyone’s radar.
When we finally separated, the pain was unbearable. Not only had I lost my friend and lover, but I had lost my connection to the world around me. If I wasn’t the wife of the pilot, who was I? But I knew wallowing was not a solution to my problems. To find myself I needed to go on my own journey.
The first thing I did was skydive, and at the time, it felt like the best way to find some confidence. It worked; I was motivated to keep pushing myself. Then I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando. I went snowboarding. I rode a mechanical bull and suffered two broken ribs, but it didn’t matter; I’d crossed yet another adventure off my bucket list.
But for all the excitement and accumulated frequent flier miles, I wasn’t yet entirely comfortable in my own skin, and I needed to rid myself of some baggage.
While at a party, I overheard a man named Frank talking about an upcoming adventure to climb Kala Patthar, a landmark in the Himalayas. My ears perked up. Kala Patthar’s peak, at 18,500 feet, provides jaw-dropping views of Everest, and it is challenging yet accessible for people without significant mountaineering experience. I knew I needed to climb this mountain.
On March 15, we all boarded a plane for Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Our expedition included sherpas, who served as guides, and I was the only female in our group. We all experienced the altitude-related headaches and the physical strain of day-long climbs in thin air. Tents did little to protect us; it was so cold at night that we slept in full gear, including ski jackets, gloves, hats, face covers, and heavy-duty sleeping bags.
The day of our summit, we awoke at 3 a.m. to begin the slow climb to the peak. A few hours later, standing almost 19,000 feet above sea level and reveling in the splendor of the Himalayas, I knew that it was time to let go of the baggage that I had brought to the top of Patthar.
I was no longer the wife of a pilot. I was my own person, someone who had the confidence and the courage to step out from behind the shadows, take risks, and live life on her own terms. I knew where I had been and where I was going.
I may have found my identity at a high altitude, but, in that moment, I actually felt more grounded than ever.