Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Heather by any other Name...

"Why don't you sign your name to the summit registers?"

The question was simple, but the answer is more complex.

Anish was here.

Those are the words of "the Ghost." More simply they are the essence. I was there. I was in that space in a moment and that was all that mattered. Breathing, taking in everything right then and there. No reason to wax eloquently about the weather or the journey. Those are the things that matter only to me. Those are the things that make that moment what it is.

More than that, I sign Anish because it is she that was there, not Heather Anderson. For you see, Heather walked into the Georgia woods one sunny day in the late spring of 2003 and she never walked out.

She died in those rugged mountains–in the Carter Gap Shelter–as she sterilized a needle with fire and plunged it into the giant blisters beneath every toenail. As streams of fluid shot out and the excruciating pain of the last week finally lessened, Anish was born.

Over the miles, through the rocks and rain and heat and insects and pain, Anish grew. She gained strength from hardship and joy from the becoming. Out of ashes and tears a new woman formed.

And when she placed the rock she'd carried on the summit cairn of Katahdin, it was the headstone for the woman who'd started the journey 2,172 miles before.

Heather is the name on official papers and nostalgic memorabilia. She is the ghost that haunts Anish as she roams the mountains. A reminder that she will always live two lives: reality and the one that happens outside the bounds of wilderness.


Back in the house I grew up in, where not much changes, I am reminded of the Heather that was. The young woman who so desperately wanted to be thin, pretty, accepted. I stand in front of the bathroom mirror where I spent countless hours despising my body. Today, the reflection that stares back at me is wearing size 0 jeans and has muscles in her arms and legs that tell the story of miles walked and rock faces climbed. The reflection is finally what the old me wish for so fervently.

And yet, there is no change in my feelings toward myself as I see this "perfect" reflection.

I am still uncertain. I doubt my worth, my abilities, my attractiveness. These scars will always mar any reflection of myself.

It is when I walk away from that mirror, or any mirror, that my feelings change.

It is when I stand atop a mountain peak that I struggled to obtain.
It's when I stare back at miles covered.
It's when I crawl into my tent exhausted from giving everything I have.
It's when I've run hard–so hard I can't breathe.
It's when I feel my leg muscles contract and bulge powering me upward and forward.
It's when I shove my hands and feet into a narrow crack and twist–hauling myself upward–my body the only anchor holding me to the rock.

At those times I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel beautiful. I feel purposeful.

Appearance is nothing. It is the fact that I am fearfully and wonderfully made that matters. I may never be able to fully overcome my past–but as with a reflection–I can always walk away from it and into present reality.