How Much Longer?

Three AmigosThe Grand Canyon was every bit as grand as I remembered from the last time I visited, and moreso, because this time I hiked down to the bottom and back, spending four sunny days (and three chilly nights) immersing myself in the Canyon’s majesty at a snail’s pace and at arm’s length.

My brother-in-law, Chuck (at right in the picture above), and I have been hiking together since October, 1980, which makes this our 39th year.  Joe (at left), another friend from college, joined us about 20 years ago on our annual, week-long backpacking adventures.  But here’s something I think we all noticed on this trip:

We’re not getting any younger.

I felt it on that last day, climbing up out of the Canyon, a 3,000-foot change in elevation that was nearly straight up.  On the way to the airport the next day I asked, “How much longer do you think we’re going to be able to do this?”

We’ve talked about it before, especially last year when Chuck had to have back surgery.  We know there will come a time when none of us will be able to shoulder a 50-pound pack and hike ten miles in the mountains.  On this trip we talked about the possibility of doing more base-camping and day-hiking in the future, but none of us seemed shocked by the idea that we might have to make some adjustments, and here’s why:

I’m a pastor, Chuck is an Episcopal priest, and Joe is a hospital chaplain.

Almost every day we spend time with people who are further down this trail than we are. In a recent 24-hour period I visited with a woman who is dying, a man who is recovering from surgery, a child who wanted to know about life after death, and a woman who has had to accept the fact that she cannot walk without a cane.  Mortality is all around us. We deal with it every day. We know we aren’t getting younger and stronger because most of the people we minister to aren’t either.

There’s something comforting about that, and I hope it will stay with me when I realize I’ve taken my last backpacking trip, or when I come to the place that I can’t walk without a cane, or when I’m lying on my own death bed.  I’d love to be able to say, “I’ve seen all this before! This is how it goes!” without feeling any bitterness, any remorse.

And there is a part of me—that adventure-loving part of me—that knows what comes next is the greatest adventure of all, one that will make the Grand Canyon look like a hole in the ground by comparison. I want to live with the kind of appreciation, and acceptance, and unshakable faith that will cause me to look forward to that day even though (as Chuck often reminds me),

“There’s no hurry.”


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