Whether we're going up or down the stairs is irrelevant. It's always an uphill climb. We like to take our time on the steps: one-two, one-two. And sometimes we turn around and undo our progress, which Mama does not like if we are in a hurry. We stop to examine the shoes outside of the neighbors' apartment. We experiment by dropping our pacifier between the railings.
When I look back on the months, I am astounded. I have been doing this, and doing it on my own for about seven months, while my husband prepares for our emigration back in Wales. Doing it through financial hardship, and mental illness, and broken family relationships, and depression. But also through amazing moments of grace and joys so acute they're almost painful. I'm kind of breathless. It's like when you've climbed a mountain, and you don't realize how far you've come until you stop and turn around; see the valleys and the roofs of houses peppered on the green, no bigger than mushrooms.
I remember climbing mountains like that in the heart of German Switzerland. It was, probably, the most beautiful place I've ever been on earth. Though I feel similarly about Wales, Ecuador, and Italy, so far, those ice-capped mountains are the most sublime of beauties I've yet encountered.
Thinking back on it, trying to conjure my feelings of the time tends to evade me. But this afternoon, as I was driving with my son in that deep yellow summer light, the road sped sleek and the green ground to my left fell away from it, tumbling into a small hollow. I thought, "How beautiful for the homes and people who look out onto this every day!" Then I looked to my right and felt again what I felt in the Alps, almost a decade ago, that sunny September: my soul was most bright and open when I faced upward.
No matter how often I turned, panting, to look at the steep and sheer paths I had crossed, I was compelled to turn forward again, to face the upward climb, even when I was too tired to go on. Somehow, the curve of the unseen, and the height looking like it couldn't possibly go any further--if I could only mount that summit--was my preferred direction. At the same time, it was the knowing that it could go on and on, right into the firmament, but be more and more of the same, always up and up, that turned me toward it like a daisy with her face to the sun. And when, at the end of the day, finally exhausted, thirsty, footsore, and hungry for oxygen, it was with disappointment that I turned away from the upward climb and headed down again.
Lewis writes in his final Narnia chronicle of the children running without ever losing breath, up and up and up the mountains, and all creation shouting, "Come further up, come further in!" After Switzerland, I "got it," in one way. Maybe now I "get it" in another.