Finding My Joy

May 17, 2014 | Nepal, Transformation

boat pic

Nepalis generally don’t hesitate to state the obvious with friends and family — and they’re rather observant. They greet me and appraise with me (with affection). If I’ve gained weight since my last visit, they tell me I’m a little fatter than last year. If I’ve changed my hairstyle, they comment on it in the first few minutes of seeing me. When I arrived this year, a friend said, “You look great! Your face is shining!” Another said, “Wow! You look so much better than last year! Your face is bright!” The next said, “Oh! You look so good! I didn’t recognize you at first!” I was a little taken aback. Have I changed so much? How did I look last year?? Friends, shopkeepers, trekking staff, and even the trekking company owner, all commented on how happy I look as they met me for the season. They were so surprised. Twenty-three Nepalis can’t be wrong. Can they?

I’m not saying this to boast — I’m saying it out of relief. 2013 was a hard, hard year. I ended a relationship that wasn’t working. It left me alone and sad long before it actually ended, and sadder still after the fact. I found myself in transition on many fronts, and transition is rarely easy. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to live, how I wanted to live, what I wanted to do. I struggled to find my way in the world again and wondered how I could have gotten so off-course. I was depressed, isolated, sad, lost….for a long while. So long that I was exhausted from it, that I longed for my old vibrant self but had no idea how to find my way back. Even as good things happened, I felt distanced from them. Isn’t that what deep sadness is? I remembered feeling brighter, more full of life and being, but that self seemed like a stranger. I had no idea how to meet her again, much less become her.

Change is sometimes abrupt rather than gradual. A strong steel bridge on the trail has been wiped out by a landslide. An avalanche claims 16 Sherpa lives in an instant. A climber I knew from last season died on Aconcagua this year. A client becomes a textbook case of altitude sickness within a few hours and has to be evacuated in the middle of the night. The morning sun turns to afternoon snow…. Maybe in myself as well, something has shifted abruptly — the way a chiropractor moves bones into place. Something in me finally realigned, and I am vibrant again. My core feels solid instead of hollow, and it is a relief after having lost myself for so long. The uncertainty, the sadness, they didn’t just go away, but I feel differently towards them: experiencing them rather than being consumed by them. Suddenly I’m on the other side of the mirror, and the self that was so depressed seems like a stranger I can no longer relate to. How does that happen?

Seeing myself through my Nepali friends’ eyes, seeing the changes, the coming through–it’s a relief. I don’t think I even recognized how much I’ve come through, until now I hear it again and again from people I haven’t seen in a year, from people to whom the change is clear.

I hiked stronger this season than I have in years. I’ve managed difficulties with grace. I would say I’ve been healthier than usual, but perhaps only while trekking. (The other realities of this life: a case of food poisoning, a cold, and losing my voice to laryngitis for 3 days. That’s Nepal for you: good on the soul, hard on the body.) Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, maybe late last year, maybe late last month, I settled back into the self that I remembered. What I feel is an overwhelming sense of relief. To be joyful once more. Bright. I wasn’t sure I would ever feel so good again.

me by dennis severt