This is not a metaphor.
I have micro-spikes on my running shoes, walking sticks in my hands. These have become my good friends.
Right behind me is a true good friend, the kind of friend you may only meet in scraps of time scattered across the years and the whole spread of a country, but with whom a connection always hums. Hiking with her today feels like it could be every day. Like we do this all the time.
My body laughs at this thought, though -- do this all the time. I have been exercising more lately, but the Grand Canyon has a way of humbling a person.
My lungs are heavy. My legs are moving but they feel like a funny mix of jello and concrete. My feet have been barking for miles. I stop - again -- to let my breathing slow and my heart rate climb down out of my eyes. I can see the blood pulsing when I look at the snow. We've been ascending for awhile now, but the rim still seems impossible over our heads. I trace the trail ahead with my gaze, trying to assess the grade. A couple hikers are quite a bit ahead of us. I watch them turn the corner of a switchback and it doesn't look like they're climbing as steeply as we are. They look small. Far away.
"We've got this," my friend says as we push ahead again. I agree with a grunt. Of course we've got this, but I like that she said it aloud. I like that I can hear her feet crunching over the snow behind me. (I like that she let me go first. I was starting to lag, and discouragement was weighing me down. She could feel this.) I like that we've already talked and talked and talked and now we're silent and that feels good, too. I like that I can complain if I want to, stop if I need to catch my breath, fart if I feel so moved. I like that I'm here, now, with her.
We'll get dinner after we're done with this hike, and I'll listen to her read a bedtime story to her daughter later on. She and her husband will both sing Baby Beluga. When her daughter cries out of a nightmare just before sunrise, my friend's voice will float sleepy patience cozy love waves of soft comfort fading into silence and peaceful darkness again.
So much has changed, I'll think as I pull the quilt over my shoulder in the guest bedroom. But it's also true that everything is exactly the same.