ascent beckons

by Aqeela Naqvi

the task of a carefree summer’s day: to watch the sunset over the city of Qom by climbing to the top of Mt. Khidhr… a task so adventure-y i didn’t think twice about it until we were halfway to the top – when (of course) i decided to do the exact opposite of what every book/movie/story/piece of advice on heights ever says to do – and that is, look down.

which is when i conveniently remembered a fact that had slipped my mind in all the excitement: my greatest fear – the frequent haunting of many a childhood nightmare – is heights. and by greatest fear i mean *the* greatest fear… as in, the second i looked back, my knees gave in and i closed my eyes, immediately dizzy, heart racing, grasping hold of the rough mountain face for support.

as the world moved to slow motion around me, i tried not to think of the fact that i was now an equal distance to the top of the mountain as i was from the bottom. equal distances to travel on a twisting dirt mountain path which – would ya believe it – came with no railings or safety supports… a path to be traversed only by the security of steady feet and even steadier faith.

equal distances. so – the decision. which way? forward or back? ascent or descent?

eyes closed, caught in this maelstrom of thoughts, i focused on calming my breath, attempting to quell a strange feeling that this decision was somehow determining a crossroads in my life…

and then suddenly, a voice of a companion walking alongside us cut through the fog: “there are a thousand ways to die, but only one death to have. do not be afraid.”

 . . . watching the gentle sun set from the height of ancient mountains had never been so beautiful.

“you cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. so why bother in the first place? just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. one climbs, one sees. one descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. there is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. when one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”

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