Our first few birthdays are cute. Then we start marking time: school, driver’s license, voting, drinking. Then the markers slow down, space out, get more vague…. There’s the ticking of the biological clock, reaching the Master’s category in the 5K run results, making retirement plans, receiving AARP membership offers in the mail, Social Security statements, Medicare. As the Earth spins its steady march around the Sun, our physical bodies undergo their own changes: we get bigger, gain strength, grow hair, hit puberty, grow more hair, and eventually a long series of system failures. We lose hair where it’s supposed to grow, and grow it where it’s not. Or it turns gray. Or both.

Satchel Paige (pitcher, philosopher) asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” As much as I prefer to avoid thinking about age, it’s pretty unavoidable if you’re paying attention at all. Watching the changes in your parents, then the same changes in yourself. Reading obituaries, and attending funerals, especially when the guest of honor is younger than yourself.

Growing old in America can be lonely. Yet many cultures revere old age. How can we view aging in a positive light?


Mountains are dramatic. Perhaps that’s why they form the basis of so many analogies.

  • Religion – “There are many paths to the top of the mountain.”
  • Encouragement – “The Good Lord gave us mountains so we could learn how to climb.”
  • Obstacles – “Turn your mountains into molehills.”
  • Victory – “We have made it to the top of the mountain.”
  • Majesty – “That was a mountain-top experience.”

Mountain analogies are so common they are almost trite. Because of this triteness, I really tried to avoid this analogy, except that it seemed to work so well.

To start with, let me make it clear that the mountain in my analogy is not any trivial mountain, like Georgia’s Stone Mountain (which I dearly love), or the soft green mountains on the East Coast (of which I am also quite fond), or even the craggy Western mountains as exemplified by the Grand Tetons. (Who is not impressed by grand tetons?)

No, my analogical mountain is more of a serious climb, a Kilimanjaro, a K2, an Everest (which sadly exhausts my mental list of great mountains). Unlike the mountains in the previous paragraph, I’ve never climbed one of these serious mountains, which may limit the accuracy of my metaphor. But that isn’t going to stop me now!


In case you’ve been otherwise occupied, watching TV, checking e-mail, and texting while you read this, here comes the analogy: in some ways, getting old seems like climbing a mountain.

You start off on an easy slope, with plenty of energy, surrounded by trees. You may not even realize you are ascending. As the slope gets steeper, the climb gets harder and the trees start to thin out. The air gets thinner, each step becomes more difficult, until at last it takes all your energy to just to take a single step.

This would seem a dismal prospect indeed, except that the view gets increasingly more impressive as you surmount the peak. No longer surrounded by forest, you can see great geological features, other mountains, clouds, rivers. The stars glow brightly at night through the thin air, even though your vision has faded from the oxygen deprivation.

As you approach the peak, you are rewarded with an awareness of how things fit together, of how the world works. You see the path that brought you to this place, and the obstacles you overcame.

Of course, like most analogies, this one has limits. Not everyone climbs up the mountain, nor makes it to the peak. Not everyone survives the obstacles, not everyone has clarity of thought and global awareness, not everyone learns from the journey.

I can further over-analyze my own analogy. How does the the actual end of life fit into this analogy? Is that analogous to reaching the summit? Or does one simply run out of energy and oxygen on the way up? The concept of Heaven Above fits nicely here. The climber simply leaves wherever they are on the mountain, whatever level they have achieved, and ascends into the clouds, experiencing an even grander vista (TM, Microsoft) and broader awareness and understanding.

Are there Sherpas on this climb? Other climbers? Are they on the same mountain. Where do you get food and water? Is the analogy like the sleeping arrangements: intense?

Clearly I’ve fallen over the edge of this particular analogy.

Post-post analysis

I’m not sure how well this weekly posting goal is going to work.

One Response to “Sherpas?”

  1. Cat Stevens says:

    You can do it…. post every week, that is, and also climb the highest mountain. Weekly is quite a goal, but I say keep at it. Your posts are enjoyable to us readers, especially when they involve intense moments. I took a creative writing class this past fall and the teach reminded me that not everything we write has to be profound or perfect but it’s the act of writing .. the doing it daily that makes us better.

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