In 1924, no man had ever reached the summit of Mr. Everest, and George Mallory wanted to be the first. When asked why he said, “Because it’s there.” The young adventurer with his friend Andrew Irvine attempted to climb with primitive clothing and gear by today’s standards. In 1999 his body was found where he died. It was preserved by the freezing, dry air. He was last seen not far from the summit, but it’s is not known if he died ascending or descending. His broken leg suggests he fell to his death. His climbing partner was never found, though they were probably tethered together.
Since his death, over two hundred climbers have died trying to climb to the peak. Mountaineers walk by the remains as they attempt to reach the summit. The air is so thin helicopters can’t reach them to retrieve the bodies. The only color on the mountain is the bright clothing on the well-preserved corpses. No animals disturb them because there are none that can survive in the thin air. It’s said men and creatures are not intended to live at the altitude 747’s fly.
Climbers who reach the summit celebrate just a short time. If they tarry too long, they will probably die there, or on the way down. The summit is called the death zone because the body can’t function with such thin air—even with supplemental oxygen.
We describe our happy times as mountain-top experiences, but like the miles-high adventurers, we don’t tarry there long. Man is not designed to live on the mountain tops. We live and work in the valleys—that’s where life is. Farmers toil in the bottom land because there is water and warmth available. It is where things grow and live.
I previously described caring for a loved-one with dementia as the Valley of Dementia, but I didn’t call it the Valley of Despair. At the bottom of every mountain is a valley, and at the bottom of every valley is a stream or river. In Psalms 46, the Psalmist describes God as a river.
Psalm 46 NIV
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most-High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
In another scripture, the prophet Balaam stood on the mountain and looked down on Israelites and said:
How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!
Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river.
Like Aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters.
Numbers 24:5-6 NASB
It’s in the valleys we find gardens, cedars, and water. It’s where we live. It’s dirty diapers, family budgets, and laundry. But it’s also school plays, soccer, and family dinners. As I grow older, I’ve learned the valleys of everyday life produce pleasant memories. Sure, I smile when I think of the vacation when my youngest daughter caught the biggest trout. That was a mountain-top experience. In contrast, I have fond memories of our pizza and movie every Friday night, when the family gathered at the close of the work-week. It was a valley experience like sitting in a garden beside a calm river. I was content.
Someday, I hope to vacation for a few weeks in Alaska. I want to visit Denali National Park, take a ferry along the coast, and travel by train to experience the wilderness. That mountain-top experience will have to wait for a while because I’m currently walking through the valley with my mother. It’s where we live and I’m content.
© 2018 Ronald Milburn