“You’re a tough one.“, he says attempting to catch his breath as we continue our hike to the peak. We’re halfway there. He’s in his sixties. My aunt’s fiancé, an avid marathon runner, and an adventurer.”Aren’t your thirsty?” he asks. I nod. It’s been hours since either of us had water. I acknowledge my thirst and wipe the sweat off my face. It’s a particularly hot and humid day. What else can you expect on a Caribbean island? I’m running on adrenaline and passion. “I won’t settle for anything less than the peak”, I think to myself.
As we continue our hike to the top, he tells me of his younger years in California, in Oregon, in Washington. All the beauty, all the camping, all the friendships. Eventually he made his way back to his home country, where he met my aunt. Raul. He’s got a brilliant spirit, vibrant eyes, and a zest for life that’s near unmatchable. At this point he’d been adventuring with me around the island for 7 days and I couldn’t leave without completing this hike. There was something about it that magnetized me. A lesson awaited.
We reached a narrower and steeper point as we continued uphill – an indication that the peak was nearby. In half an hour’s time, we arrived. The peak is covered in a series of boulders. I carefully climb through them in the quest to capture an awe-inspiring view – what a vantage point. I looked over at Raul – overwhelmed by joy. “Wow. Such beauty.“, he says. You can see that he felt those words in every fiber of his being, with every bone in his body. For a moment, we held space for the majesty of the mountains surrounding us – we become silent. The peak overlooks the Sierra de Luquillo range, a series of gorgeous slopes in the Northeastern part of Puerto Rico which command respect with their mere presence. Suddenly, I become overwhelmed by a feeling of deep serenity. In the presence of these mountains, I felt understood. On our way down, we talk about the view, share more stories, fill moments with laughter, and remain alert as to not get lost.
Upon completing our climb, we are greeted with water, granola, and smiling faces. “There’s a waterfall around here.”, my aunt says. We look at a map and locate the trail. This climb is down hill. Way down. We embark on the journey and begin to make our way down. My grandmother, in her 70s, whom I hadn’t spent time with in nearly a decade, joins us. She too, is a tough one. We laugh, we slip, nearly fall, until we arrive at our destination.
It falls, the water, it falls. There’s something deeply enchanting and enticing about the ferocity of waterfalls. To witness an element so fluid violently crashing against rocks is to experience an embodiment of the paradox of living. If you stay with a waterfall long enough, it’ll seduce you to come in, to become one with it, to understand its way. “Join me. Let me show you how to live in a state of both chaos and order.” , it whispers. Suddenly, I find myself partly submerged in water. The air is cooler, the area is people congested, and the sun is slowly starting to bid us farewell.
Knowing that my time was ending, I began to reflect on the course of the events that had transpired through the day. For the grand majority of my life, I’ve been focused on reaching the peak: top of the class, perfect GPA, perfect test scores, full ride, very little little sleep, early admittance to medical school, perfect job performance. An obsessive, inexplicable drive towards perfection that controlled me, yanked me around, and demanded my full attention. So deeply focused on the end goal, on the destination, that I often missed the beauty of the journey and the treasures found along the way. On this day, my true treasures weren’t found in the attainment of the peak of the ascend or the descend, but in the stories collected and the relationships fostered along the way.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ursula K. Le Guin,