Michael walked along the mountain path, a gorgeous forested view to his left. But he did not see it. Eyes set on the ground, he trudged forward, taking in nothing of the remarkable beauty around him. A simple phrase popped into his head.
‘With a brave face I journey alone’
This had been his motto for a year now. After the ‘incident’, the ultimate betrayal that tore his spirits assunder, he had learned to trust in nobody. There was only one person who he would listen to, and that was himself. Society could be damned for all he cared.
Embarking on this journey alone was his own idea. His family and what friends had stuck as close to him as he would allow had tried to talk him out of it, but he was far too stubborn to listen. Seeking answers was all he cared about, and since he couldn’t trust that another human being would give him what he needed he needed to find it through solo experiences.
Nothing seemed to work. Kayaking in Algonquin park, hiking along the Bruce Trail; nothing brought him any solice. So he travelled to the Rockie Mountains, hoping that the stories of majesty he read in pamphlets would give him what he needed. He located a lesser used path and began to climb.
A sound brought him out of his thoughts. It was clapping. Frowning, Michael slowed his pace, wondering if he had come upon a group of people but upon rounding a bend in the path he found this was not so. Before him lay the edge of a large outcropping of rock that showed the mountain vistas for many kilometers. Sitting on a boulder to the side was a upper-middle aged man, wearing simple hiking clothes and staring straight ahead. He was alone.
The man turned his head to the younger man upon hearing his approach. At that moment, Michael could see tears in the man’s eyes, however that was mismatched with a wide smile. “Greetings, fellow traveller”, the man said.
“Hi”, Michael grunted. He meant to move on quickly, to get away from what could be a complete nuisance but something stopped him. The incongruity on the mans face seemed important somehow. A whisper in the back of his mind, perhaps a younger and less bitter version of himself said to stop.
“Are you…well, ok?”, he said in a quiet voice.
“Ok? My god, man. Look at what is in front of you. Isn’t this the most magnificant thing you have ever seen?” With that he threw his head back and gave a massive yell of joy and began clapping his hands frantically.
He then turned his head back to Michael and looked him over. Then he slid off of the rock and approached him. Ignoring the suddenly saucer shaped eyes on the younger mans face, he thrust his hand out and gripped Michaels hand in his with a mighty shake. “I’m Bruce, and who are you, my fine fellow?”
Feeling awkward, Michael gave his name but pulled back from the crushing handshake. Bruce sensed the discomfort and asserted, “Oh, c’mon…how can you feel down when you have all of this to greet you?”
Shrugging but disarmed somehow, Michael said, “I don’t know. It just doesn’t mean anything. I keep looking for something but don’t know what it is.”
With a kind expression on his face, Bruce replied, “Ah, the follies of youth. Always looking for an answer to something big. Let me tell you, I have experienced a lot of things alone in my time, but that didn’t give me any answers. That’s a lot of nonsence, let me tell you.”
Suddenly insensed, Michael shouted, “Bullshit! There has to be something out there.”
Bruce raised his hands in a placating gesture, “Relax my friend, I don’t mean to impune your beliefs. And I didn’t say there aren’t answers out there. The thing is, do you have a question?”
Backing off a step, Michael asked, “What do you mean?”
“A question. What was it for you? Parents divorce, job loss, girlfriend lost…” Seeing the sudden anguish in Michael’s face Bruce’s own face showed sympathy. “Ah, young love. That always seems to hurt the worst.”
“Well, what was it for you?”, Michael shot back.
Bruce paused for a moment, looking unsure as to whether he should go on. “I thought to look for a reason why I had to die.”
Seeing the confusion suddenly etched on Michael’s face, the older man continued, “Stage four cancer. Pretty much spread everywhere…I’ve only got a couple months at the latest.” He then spread his arms, “But then I came here and everything changed.
“You came alone when you’re this sick?”
“Alone? No, no. My family are just a bit farther up the trail. I just needed to take a rest and when I saw this spot I knew it was perfect. They’ll be back in a little while. So, I thought about it a bit and a bit of an epithany came to me. My question was really ‘Was my life worthwhile’. And I thought about my beautiful wife and two children and realized I had fulfilled what I needed to be…I already had my answers in them.”
Confused, Michael retorted, “So what you’re saying is I have to just go get married, have two kids and that’ll fix everything?”
“Nope. That was my answer, and I’m proud I made it. Yours could be different. Maybe it’s through your work, or volunteering, or even as a hermit…which apparently you are trying to be as I see no fellow traveller with you. But it’s not working, is it?”
“No”, Michael agreed reluctantly.
“So then stop it. Find somebody to talk to. Find an echo for your feelings. It doesn’t need to be anybody specific, just start talking, like you and I are right now. And most importantly, enjoy your moments. For let me tell you, they are fleeting.” Bruce nodded towards the skyline. “Just sit with me for awhile and enjoy this moment. The shadows from those further mountains cast the most amazing shadows on the trees below from where the sun is at…it’s so amazing.”
Michael helped Bruce back onto the boulder and then sat down beside him. Together they sat in silence for many minutes until Bruce let out another long yell and clapped again. Michael turned to him and asked, “Why the yell?”
“It’s triumph, my friend. You see, I was afraid of dying as a very personal thing. Why me, me, me all the time. I now know I’m not afraid. Sure, I’m sad for my family, but it won’t do to be depressed all the time. They need me as I am for the amount of time I have left so living in negativity isn’t going to do squat.”
Michael was hit with a sudden feeling of anguish. The looks on his mother and fathers faces when he scorned their advances of help. His small group of friends, who did their best to be there for them…how did they feel. He had failed them.
Bruce noticed the change of expression on his companions face and seemed to somehow understand what he was thinking. He then whispered, “It’s never too late to accept help, or simply to say I love you to somebody. If people stick with you they are part of your questions AND answers. You should go to them.
Michael nodded weakly, afraid he may break into tears.
Suddenly a trio of voices echoed off of the rocks soon their owners rounded a bend. Bruce slid off of the rock again and embraced his wife, a petite woman with silvering hair. “Did you have a great time?”
“We did”, enthused his son, who appeared to be around twenty. The views were incredible.
Bruce then turned to Michael and introduced him. “This young man was kind enough to let me be his company for a little while before moving on down the trail.”
“No, I’ve seen enough today, and the pleasure was mine.” Michael found himself saying almost to his surprise. And then he caught the eye of the third traveller, Bruce’s daughter, who appeared to be closer to his own age. She smiled shyly up at him. He did so in turn, likely his first genuine smile in months.
Bruce noticed, cleared his throat audibly and then introduced his family. His wife was Sylvia, his son was Robert and his daughter was Samantha. He took one last look at the vista and turned to his now four companions, “So, shall we walk back together then?”
He led the way back down the trail, and this time Michael noticed a lot more than when he came up. The colour of the trees against the mountains, the sparkling water in the river running below. Furthermore, the company of others really meant something. He felt a tear running down his eye and realized it, like Bruce’s was a tear of joy. He had found some kind of answer for himself, even though he didn’t exactly know what question it was for. It was a start.
As they came up to their cars, Bruce turned to Michael, looked him over again and smiled. “Listen, there is a great little diner up the road, why don’t you join us for dinner? I’m sure you’ve got some travelling to do still but you’ve still got to eat. And Robert does tell some of the best dirty jokes. Sylvia smacked his arm with a tut but they all laughed.
October 6, 2012 – 1:28am
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Podcast of the day: Superego
Music playing while I wrote this: A lot of Enya. Four hours worth. I’m chill.
Authors note. This story grew spontaneously from a poem I was writing. I felt like I didn’t have the time to get it right so I wrote a short story for the next few hours instead. I may return to it in the future and tweak a couple things, but for the most part I think I got the message right.
Constructive comments would be wonderful!