There's a mountain not too far from home, and it calls me sometimes. There isn't anything so special about this mountain, really. It is not particularly tall, nor is it in an exotic location, but I love to hike it all the same. The way up is long, and monotonous, sometimes even boring. Trees block most views before the summit, but at least the leafy branches offer shade during a summer climb.
I don't answer the call for the trees, though. I don't go simply for the exercise. Everything I journey for, waits for me at peak.
Back home I'm not really brave. As much as I want to be adventurous, as much as I want to stand up for myself, I barely move past being meek. My daily life is wrought with anxiety about everything and nothing at all.
What could I accomplish? What have I missed out on accomplishing? Am I wasting time being completely unproductive? Will I ever amount to anything at all? If I speak up for myself, will I say the right thing or will everything go wrong? I am ashamed of everything I ever do, for no other reason than the fact that I am the one to do it. It makes up a hard shell, one that is difficult to remove.
On top of the mountain none of that seems to apply anymore. I don't think about it. My trouble is as far away as the ground at the bottom of the rock face. Being in that place has a way of banishing my fear. Suddenly this timid, meek, mouse of a human can climb across jagged rocks half a mile high and the shell doesn't seem so thick.
Perhaps it's because I have to concentrate on the moment, and that makes everything else seem so distant. I am mindful of my footing, I have to be or else I could fall. The feel of rough stone under my fingers is paramount to most other feelings. A good grip and stable footing in this moment is much more important than my childhood, or that time a colleague misinterpreted something I said, or whether or not anyone at all liked my last painting but me.
Let's be honest here, past traumas will never materialize into a parachute. Worrying about someone's perceptions of me or my work won't help me haul myself up and over hundreds of feet of weathered rock to get to my destination. I throw out every thought that isn't practical in order to climb to the other side of the summit safely.
By the time I arrive to the other side, my mind is clear of the clutter. A bit tired, I sit there, with no other sound but the wind and maybe a few birds. Sometimes, sitting on the edge of the rock face, there are clouds beneath where my feet dangle. I can feel the salty sweat as it cools me down and dries on my skin and everything at the moment is perfect.
Here I rest and look back over what I traversed and feel proud of myself for making it so far. Usually there are other hikers, but they mostly stay where rocks are the flattest. From here they look small. Perhaps I'm not such a coward. Certainly I am capable, confident and unafraid. I wouldn't be here if I weren't any of those things. I have to be those things if I expect make it all the way back. Maybe I wasn't meant to feel so small and afraid. Here, I start to feel like maybe this is who I truly am.
I didn't just barely escape my shell. I feel like it is completely gone at least for the time being. I smashed it and flew right out into the open air. Eventually I have to go home, but maybe I don't have to get back in the shell just yet.
I leave the mountain with aches in places I didn't even realize that muscles existed. As I drive home, the mountain fades into the distance but I know the feeling will stick with me for days afterward. Every time I move the slight muscle aches remind me of where I had just been and what I am capable of. For a while I'm just a little louder, and a little more sure of myself.
Eventually though, the aches fade. The shell restructures itself, but there's a mountain not too far from home, and it calls me sometimes. I will always make the trip up the mountain, to meet that version of myself that lives at the top and maybe, one day, it'll stick.