The secret of success is constancy of purpose. (Benjamin Disraeli)
What will tomorrow bring? What are your dreams and your plans for tomorrow morning? As in the photo above, there may be several routes to the summit. Without constancy of purpose, you are not likely to reach that summit. Without constancy of purpose you may stop just short of your goal – a false summit.
My good friend Tom (an alias) and his wife live in Vermont. Every so often during a break from teaching, I would go and visit Tom and his wife. Being with them and enjoying what they had together, as husband and wife, always left me feeling hopeful that some day I would find the happiness in marriage they had.
During one visit, Tom’s brother, Teddy showed up. I had never met Teddy before. He was a very quiet, pleasant guy. There was a calm about those three folks that was incredibly reassuring. But as with all calm souls, we all are hiding demons, brewing inside, that require exorcising.
I suggested that we all ought to get up early the next morning and drive over to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and take a quick climb up the mountain. Tom and Teddy were OK to go, but Sarah, Tom’s wife thought she’d stay home. “Let it be a boy’s adventure weekend,” she said.
We checked the weather in the Mt. Washington valley and saw no red flags. There was a chance of rain, but with luck, we’d be up and down the mountain before the rain ever showed up. The decision was made to drive to New Hampshire early the next morning.
I have climbed Mt. Washington at least a dozen times while a counselor at a summer camp in Maine. I knew several trails up the mountain and was eager for the three of us to tackle the Lion Head Trail.
The drive took a bit longer than we had anticipated. Summer traffic along the Kancamagus Highway was painfully slow. We were anxious to get started on our climbing adventure. It was late afternoon by the time we were ready to start our hike. I suggested we recheck our supplies and take a leisurely hike to a shelter area known as Hermit Crab Shelter and spend the night camped there. Then in the morning we could finish the climb, enjoy the summit and have plenty of time to come back down to our car and be on our way.
We had a great night at the shelter. The wooden shed was open on the side away from the prevailing wind, open to the stars and to the forest. We were joined by several other folks who had chosen a strategy similar to ours. Story telling and idle chatter of other climbs filled the evening till we all drifted off to sleep.
In the morning we all shared a light breakfast, said our goodbyes to new friends and began the trek up the mountain. The hike was strenuous but not overwhelming. We noticed summer flowers were in bloom along the trail. Then we reached the timberline. From there up to the summit, there would be no protection from the wind and weather. That seemed irrelevant since the day was so fair.
After an uneventful trek we reached the summit.
The strange thing about Mt. Washington is that some folks make it to the summit by hiking up the mountain. But some folks drive up the mountain in their cars or take the Cog Rail Train up from the valley. Obviously, as hikers we had taken the more traditional, more noble way up the mountain.
The wind was starting to pick up and clouds began to form at a fast rate. While we were tired and could have used a longer rest, it was decided to start down the mountain right then and there to avoid the chance of being caught in any unpleasant weather. I checked the latest weather report only to find out thunderstorms and heavy rain were forecast. It was time to leave.
For all the times I have climbed that mountain I had never lost the trail. Not only did I miss the trail blazes marking the trail but by the time I realized I had gotten us lost, the rain began.
We tried backtracking a bit but I could not find the trail – any trail. I did find a stream running downhill. I knew that if we followed the stream we would eventually get back to the valley floor. It would be a harder journey through the trees than being on the trail, but we had to get moving. The rain was getting heavier, colder, and the sound of thunder was getting closer.
Our purpose had changed from having a relaxing climb up and down the mountain to outrunning the approaching storm. The storm hit with more ferocity than we expected. Lightening began to track us through the woods. The rain had now made the soil wet and our footing through the woods caused us to slip and slide on leaves and ferns. We were covered with mud.
First Teddy sat down in a puddle. He said he needed a rest and was going no further. Then Tom followed sat down, silently swearing under his breath. I too sat down knowing all the while we had to get out of the rain and out from under the trees.
It was a horrible moment of despair. Heavy sheets of rain, thunder and lighting, wind, rapidly dropping temperatures – this was not going to end well if we stayed sitting in the mud.
I am not certain which one of us had the epiphany that got us going again- the epiphany of the constancy of our original purpose.
Our purpose had been to get up and down the mountain that day. That still was our purpose although nothing about the hike was as we had planned it – especially the hike back down the mountain.
We did make it down the mountain, soaked through and through. Lighting struck the mountain and the rain continued to fall even as we climbed back into my car. No one spoke. Tom and Teddy were angry with me for getting us lost. I was angry at them for stopping midway down the mountain to rest among the trees while thunder and lighting threatened the woods we had to traverse.
It seemed it would not end well.
We all got home safe and sound. Sometimes constancy of purpose isn’t enough to overcome unexpected obstacles and struggles. There must be more than determination to survive.
Hope is that extra something – the power and promise of hope. Even in the unexpected storms of life, hope can offer solutions beyond our imagination. Left to our own strategies, without hope we may miss important opportunities to conquer tragedy, despair, fear, and our sense of dread.
Hope rescues us when we lose our purpose and our ability to persevere. You and I are, however, never left without the means to conquer any storm. It is hope and faith that guides us to success and new understanding. In that new understanding we will find the wherewithal to hold fast to our purpose – our noble purpose.