Hiking to happiness

Life is full of surprises.  I won’t say it’s like a box of chocolates because then I’d eat them all so quickly I’d have no chocolates left, and that can only mean one thing in that particular metaphor.   And I feel I’ve just got to the second layer…..

So I’d like to think of life a bit more like a good hike up a mountain. As in life, the path can be smooth, and the path can be rocky. The path can also at times be like a quagmire and sometimes you put your foot down and disappear down a bloody bog hole. (This has actually happened to me. Many years ago my pal and I joined the Wicklow Walkers and one day I literally disappeared in front of her eyes. She still laughs about it. I’m still getting 1000 year old bog out of my ear). So here you are hiking up this mountain of life, and the path can throw up any by sort of terrain at you.  But it is more than just the path you have to contend with – to a degree, you can always pick your path. You can side step and change course, you can choose to walk the well-trodden laid-down path, or scamper over untouched land.

But the sky, the view, the weather… They are beyond your control. And that’s the bit of life we often forget about, yet it’s often the most important.   The sky above can have fast moving clouds that change the light and the shadows and the view at whim. They can block out the sun, and the temperature drops so you stand in the wind and feel the chill of nature. Or they can clear and disappear and you are left basking in the glory of unfettered sunshine and blue skies. Moments later, a dark, dismal, threatening dump of blackness can seep across the brightness and there is nothing you can do but button up your jacket, pull the hood over your head and take shelter from the downpour.  An hour later, the skies can clear and you stride out again, smiling as the sun sweeps across the ground and the view is even better for having been lost for a while. The view made even more breathtaking by the rainbow that reminds us that the clouds always pass.   And that is often when you sit down and unpack the flask and drink tea and eat chocolate and appreciate what is around you.


The view from Donegal’s Slieve League with my dad, and my girls last week

Yes in life, just as in one day, in one hour, sure in Ireland, just one minute can be a kaleidoscope of weather that changes every step you take. There are even those rare but strange moments when it rains on you in the sunshine.  And so, we climb this mountain of life, carefully choosing our paths, but always at the mercy of the changing skies that impact our view. Every so often we hopefully stop to look back down and admire how far we have come, and to take a breather and suck in the view (if we can see it through the mist). But no matter how carefully we tread, or enthusiastically we scamper over the ground, every so often a boulder can roll down that hill. The boulders of life can come at us at any time and they are often without warning. Some are easy to side-step, some we can try and jump over, and some just roll on over the top of us and flatten us out.   And sometimes we think it’s very unfair for those boulders to bowl us over.   Why should this boulder roll towards me? But they are as much a part of that mountain hike as the rainbow and the view.  They are all a part of life.

Yes, life is full of surprises. Great ones, funny ones, tragic ones, beautiful ones, heartbreaking ones, uplifting ones, absolutely shit ones.

I’ve had a few surprises in my life.   I’ve had the absolutely shit ones…. my mum’s stroke, and finding out my husband was no longer capable of being my husband anymore. I’ve had tragic ones….my mum dying and losing much-wanted pregnancies. I’ve had beautiful ones…. my girls, who still surprise me, every day. I’ve had uplifting ones… friendships and moments that glitter like the sun on the wet grass. I’ve had great ones…. a book deal and a job I love.   The boulders and the rainbows. The skies and the weather…. Life just keeps going on like a trek up a mountain.  And for a while the sky was heavy with cloud and crisis, and I’ve had to stop and sit down. Take cover.  But the skies are clearing and I’m ready to stand up again, and keep walking.

There are boulders that will knock us down, and rocks we have to climb over or step around, because they are blocking our path. There are potholes to climb out of and clouds that will take away the view and soak us to our bones. But there are also orchids hidden in rocks, views that sweep us away, sun that touches our faces, cups of tea at the summit, beauty and rainbows.  And that is what life is like. It’s an ongoing hike, with lots of views, and lots of paths and lots of beauty and lots of rain. And all we can do, all I have learnt to do, is keep putting one foot in front of the other, take in the views, admire the beauty, climb over boulders, and try and find a path that doesn’t send me over the cliff-edge.   

A bad surprise: learning to be a single parent. To realise that my life is forever changed by the actions of someone else, and that what was a challenging job in a marriage, is a nearly overwhelming one alone. I can’t get time alone with each of my girls, I can’t get refuge from the need, even, especially at 3am, I can’t get anyone else to take up the workload, I can’t stretch myself to meet all of the demands.

An uplifting surprise: I can figure out the jobs, one by one that daunted me. I can do things I didn’t think I could do. I can tie up my walking boots and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

A nice surprise: a phonecall from my brother. I was bogged down trying to think of a suitable way to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday, to give him something to focus on since mum died, a family time for me and my girls, my brother’s family and my dad to spend time together. But it was difficult to figure out what and where and get times between my girls being taken away by their dad, and other commitments. So then I get a phonecall. My brother has booked three flights for him, dad and me, and we are heading to Iceland, to camp on glaciers, hike up volcanoes, and take in views that are meant to be the best in the world.   To celebrate my dad’s birthday on the top of a mountain and to grieve my mum, and mourn the end of our family but to salute the one we still have and to be grateful, so fucking, absolutely grateful for the view.

Life is full of surprises. Like a hike up a mountain. And I have learned to just keep my eyes peeled and take it all in.

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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1 Response to Hiking to happiness

  1. Nicola says:

    I love this. I’ve struggled to climb my own mountains and sometimes just sat where I was over the last few years unable to out one fit in front of the other. Somehow I got back up and did just that with the love and support of my family and a handful of close friends. Although the the mountain is less steep right now, I am not naive enough to believe I am on the homeward strait but at least I can now see the skyline and smile xx


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