This morning I finished reading Andrew McCarthy’s 2012 book, The Longest Way Home. In the chapter on Kilimanjaro, his guide Zadock tells Andrew:
Old women are the best to guide. They listen, they go slow, and they nearly always make it to the top. I had an eight-two-year-old last year. She was great.
Now I know when I must go to Kilimanjaro: when I am an old woman. I already wear purple and clothes that don’t always go together. I already eat poorly and have my quirks about what I will spend on money. My husband and I have been together 23 years this summer. During that time, we have hoarded pencils, pencils, and erasers in a box. They will outlive us. If growing old means I spit without shame, then I am willing to keep some of that kind of propriety. And is it a good thing really to plan on growing fat?
I understand the poem’s message. Don’t wait until you are old to show your individuality. Don’t be so obsessed with appearances or what other people think. Cut yourself some slack instead of trying to be perfect. I get it. I really do.
However, when I get old, I will go to Kilimanjaro while I wear purple. I will don my hiking shoes and bring extra layers of clothing. I will follow the guide, and take deep breaths. Step by step, I will walk up dirt roads. I will sleep under stars posing in the open evening skies at base camps. I will look into a crater at the top, rejoice that I made it, and then head back down. When I finally get back home, I will know that I can make it no matter what mountain looms in front of me. I can see the mountain now, but I am not sure that I believe it exists.
Until I get there, I will conquer each Kilimanjaro I encounter. I will try to remember that it is the experience of the journey, the connection with others, and the growth in myself that matters. If I am wearing purple plaid or purple sweaters, I will move and grow and learn until my last too-brief day upon this blue pearl that I call home.