“The hardest part of climbing is
I'm standing with my instructor
at the foot of a snow-covered mountain. Strong winds wail as they rush by,
hurling small beads of snow in their passing and slapping my face with the icy
cold. I huddle deeper into my thick down coat.
I look at him in surprise.
"Isn't falling the last thing you want to happen when climbing?"
The instructor chuckles. He has
to shout to be heard over the wind. "Yeah. It is. But it happens. The wind
knocks you off course, your foot slips, the rope comes loose. You fall. Most people
are so terrified of falling, so focused on making sure they never do, they
don't know what to do when it happens."
I look up at the mountain looming
above us. It just seems to ascend higher, eventually becoming lost in clouds. I
"Most times, you manage to
catch yourself when you slip. But sometimes you can't. And then you fall."
I stare, captivated by his words.
"There's a moment, when you
fall, that everything seems to stands still. You see the earth coming towards
you, but you haven't hit it yet. It feels like you can fall forever. And then
"What makes the fall so bad
isn't the fall itself. Sure, you may hurt yourself. Maybe even break something.
But that's not the really bad part. It's getting up again. Getting up, bruised,
battered, maybe worse, and looking up at how far you've fallen. And starting to
I jerk awake, body clammy with
sweat. I stare blindly around the room for a moment, panting, tangled in my
blankets. Slowly, I calm down, recognize my bedroom. I turn to the clock –
4:45am. I sigh and rub a hand across my eyes.
Just a dream.
I lie back down again. Listen to
the sound of my heartbeat, the ticking of the clock. I practice breathing
slowly to calm my still thudding breath. What
a weird dream. I've never climbed a thing in my life. I mentally shrug,
turn over, and try to go back to sleep.
Yet sleep proves elusive for the
remainder of the night.
I can't focus that day at work. I
keep thinking I can feel that snowy wind every time someone opens a window,
hear the instructor's words whenever the office falls quiet. I try to put it
out of my mind, but I catch myself thinking about it when I'm not paying
By the time the day finally
crawls to an end, I can barely keep my eyes open. I all but float home, my mind
swimming in a groggy haze of exhaustion. I absently-mindedly put something in
the oven to eat, plop down on the couch. Somehow, I manage to stay awake for
the next three hours, keeping myself occupied with activities I can barely
remember the moment I complete them.
Finally, I crawl into bed. I'm
asleep almost as soon as I hit the pillow.
"The hardest part of
climbing is the fall."
I wake up soaked in cold sweat.
The dream again, the same dream. I get up, wash my face, pace my room, go back
to bed. It doesn't help. I can't fall back asleep.
I sigh. This is going to be rough day.
The week passes by in a blur. Has it been a week? Oh man, what day is
"The wind knocks you off
course, your foot slips, the rope comes loose."
Days blend, work becomes
forgotten. The dream comes back, every night. Every day, it torments me.
I'm so tired. When was the last time I slept?
"And then you hit."
I don't even know what day it is
anymore. My life revolves around the dream now.
Icy winds, frozen snow. A huge
"...bruised, battered, maybe
Oh G‑d, I just need to sleep.
"The hardest part of
climbing is the fall."
"Sir, are you OK?"
I look around blindly, lost in my
thoughts. I'm standing on a sidewalk. I don't recognize this part of town,
don't remember walking here. A man in a coat is staring at me in concern.
The man comes closer. "Are
you OK? You've been standing there for a few minutes now, just muttering
something about falling. Do you need help?"
It takes me a moment to focus
long enough to understand him. "No? No, no it's Ok. I'm fine. Just been a
long week. Thank you."
I walk past him, turn the corner.
I'm still walking when I realize I have nowhere to go. I don't even know how to
get home. I look around, searching for signs, and notice a synagogue across the
It's been a long time.
After a moment, I cross the road.
The synagogue is dark, filled
with long pews facing the front. I sit in one, head bent, thinking. After some
time, the door opens behind me. I stay in my place, eyes downcast as the
synagogue echoes with approaching footsteps and quiet voices. A hollow click sounds as one of the men turn on
the lights, causing me to squint.
After a few minutes, I hear
footsteps echo on the floor as someone approaches. I look up. It’s the rabbi.
The pew creaks as he sits down beside me.
He studies me for a moment. “You
look familiar. You used to pray here, didn’t you?”
“A long time ago.”
I turn away. “I fell.”
He nods, as if he knows exactly
what I mean. “And now?”
“I…I don’t know. I’ve been told
that the hardest part of climbing is the fall. Getting back up again. Trying
again. Can I ever get back to where I was? Should I? What if…” I fall silent.
“What if you fall again?” He
finishes the sentence for me, the words soft, filled with understanding, as if
he’s had this conversation many times before. “What if this time, you can’t get
“Do you know what makes falling
so hard? It’s not getting back to where you were. It’s thinking that you have
to today. I don’t know what the future will bring – how high you’ll climb,
whether you’ll fall again, whether you’ll get back up. But what I do know is
that the possibilities of the future don’t change what’s in front of you today.
Today you don’t need to climb a mountain. Today, you need to get on your feet.
You need to take a step. That’s all you can do.”
I look up at him. He smiles back
“We’re trying to make a minyan for the evening prayers. We could
really use a tenth man.”