The Coronavirus has suspended these events and two other things have changed: First, both of my classes are now online via Zoom; second, the majority of my students haven’t wanted to stop after the eighth week, so we’ve continued without pause.
In the absence of our salon I find myself thinking about how to celebrate my students’ achievements. I may create a virtual salon via Zoom, or publish my students’ writing or videos on my website.
Something one of my students wrote last week inspired me and I’d like to share it. This piece of writing is from Edith Liu, born in 1939 in Munich, Germany. She had thirty minutes to write. The prompt was: “It alleviated the pain.”
Hiking, Climbing, and Dancing My Way to Health
It was November 13, 2000, when Tony, my husband of thirty-eight years, committed suicide. The emotional pain, the guilt, the diminished energy kept me from returning back to teaching yoga. My life came to a standstill, and I became very confused.
One day, I’d planned to meet someone to take a walk, but I was so distracted that I ended up at the wrong place. This was an example of how distraught I was, how my brain wasn’t functioning fully.
A yoga student came to my rescue a few days later. She picked me up and chauffeured me to the YMCA in Glendale to practice meditation with my students. We made a circle lying on the floor, holding hands, our feet forming the center. I don’t recall who made the suggestion to send good vibes, flowing through our hands around the circle. This experience was extraordinary, and it alleviated some of the pain.
As days went by, I realized I needed a lot of distraction to cope with my life. A friend, who was part of the Sierra Club, suggested I join them for a hike. I enjoyed myself tremendously and had found my niche! At the age of sixty-one I went on to climb twenty-five peaks, which made me eligible to become a member of the Hundred Peak Section. I was given a list of 276 mountains in Southern California, all over 5000’ high.
Having this climbing goal helped me start a new life.
Many of the trails were long and difficult, but once I regained my energy, I received my first emblem (a certificate) for 100 peaks. It took about a year-and-a-half. By that time I was well on my way to recovery. Being out in nature and talking to hiking buddies was the perfect therapy.
This was the opposite of being cooped up in a room with a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, which had been a gift from a friend. I don’t subscribe to that kind of therapy at all. It was a complete waste of time and money – I left after few minutes. I’ll take the wilderness over a stuffy office any day of the week!
In addition to these adventures I was introduced to rock climbing. Concentration was absolutely paramount. There was no time for self-pity; one wrong step or losing a hand grip could send me flying several feet through the air until my belayer held the rope tight to catch my fall. All these activities brought back my sanity.
I eventually completed the list of 276 mountains twice and if I’d chosen to continue with my obsessive, compulsive behavior I could have received another certificate for the third-list finish. But some of those peaks were not worth the effort. Instead, I hiked with Martin, a Sierra Club leader, who later became my new life partner. We hiked on a regular basis up to the summit of Mt. Baldy. As of this writing I clocked 340 ascents to this peak and 339 descents. On one of the hikes down I had to be rescued by helicopter due to a severe ankle sprain.
All my life I dreamed of joining my German cousin and her husband on their mountaineering adventures. This became reality in 2002. I was sixty-three. Martin and I travelled many summers to the Italian, Austrian, German and Slovenian Alps, where we climbed difficult, almost vertical walls via ferrata, which means iron. In Europe there are 1000s of these climbing features. The “iron” consists of cables, pegs, ladders, and rungs, to which we affix a harness with two leashes. These climbing tools have been put in its place by the Alpine Vereins, a German and Austrian version of the Sierra Club.
Today, I continue to hike and climb, but I’ve added contra dancing to my repertoire. Martin was not a dancer, but he encouraged me to go alone. “Twirl your skirt, flash your panties, break a lot of hearts, and come home,” he’d say every time I left. And I did.
Martin died over two years ago. He’d been sick for many years. I recently met a man, whom I see now and then, with whom I have rediscovered the joys of the flesh.
This makes me smile. The fact that Edith began hiking at the age of sixty-three astonishes me. I just turned sixty and haven’t been in the wilderness in too long, and I entertain thoughts about being too old.
Edith came to my classes because her son said she should write her stories. When I met her, I had no idea how colorful her life had been, nor could I have imagined how inspired I’d be by her adventurous tales. When I called her this morning to ask her a question, the phone rang a few times. I wondered where she might be. Isn’t everyone at home? I thought. When she finally picked up she said, “Wow, it’s amazing I’m getting this call. I’m on top of a mountain. It’s been muddy and wet, but the view is spectacular!” She’s inspired me to think about what mountains I might climb, but in the meantime I can be inspired by her stories.
Madeleine L’Engle said, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” This is as good a reason as any to write.
I have one or two openings in each of my writing circles. The next sessions begin Wednesday, May 27 and Thursday, June 4. If you’re interested, you may find details here.
I love this music video in which Edith is a featured dancer! I hope it makes you smile.
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