By MARILYN SHAPIRO
Who would ever have thought that this Upstate New York girl who had climbed only one mountain in her life—Poke-O-Moonshine near my hometown of Keeseville—would be climbing up trails leading up to mountain lakes, wildflowers, marmots, and moose at 12000 feet above sea level?
Altitude And Gratitude
Larry, my husband, and I have to thank our daughter Julie, who went to Colorado in 2003 for a one-year teaching position and fell in love with the state, the Rockies, and Sam, not necessarily in that order. Twenty years later, we, her parents, are gifted by her move there every summer, when we spend six weeks savoring the mountain air and the beauty that surrounds us.
And it is beautiful. Wide blue skies with huge fluffy clouds. Noisy creeks that run through green fields. White waterfalls that cascade off mountains. Alpine meadows ablaze with wild flowers—early summer columbines and wild roses giving way to late summer red Indian paint brushes and purple fireweeds. Aspens that quiver and shake in the wind. Clean, fresh air.
We are mostly summer visitors. By mid-August, we head back to our retirement home in Florida, sometimes venturing back in the fall. For the past few years, I have also visited by myself in March to spend time with our granddaughter during her school break. Temperatures in March range from 40 degrees and sunny to minus 12 degrees with dark skies and biting winds. I am sometimes ready to return to the warmth, but I am grateful for my time in the mountains in the winter.
The past six weeks have been a period of personal growth for me. I came to Colorado, bruised and hurting from perceived rejections from the world when my fourth book—one I had carried and nurtured like an unborn child—had been met with much excitement and congratulatory praise but few sales.
How could family and friends not provide the external validation that I craved? For weeks, my halcyon mountain days were marred by emotional lows and bouts of self-pity; the cool, quiet mountain nights were riddled with insomnia and vivid dreams of ways I had failed in my career, my relationships, and in my life.
Although I continued to pursue and research my Holocaust stories, I stopped writing. “I’m taking a break,” I wrote to Laurie Clevenson, my editor at The Jewish World, who had become accustomed to a submission every two weeks for the past 10 years. “Are you okay?” she wrote back immediately. I initially drafted a long explanation of my emotional state then deleted it. “I just need a break,” I reiterated. “I want to enjoy my time in the mountains without deadlines.”
Be Here Now
It took a while, but I finally healed. For the first time in my life, I realized how much I have depended on external validation. Every decision I made required the approval and thumbs-up from family, friends, and even strangers. Did I choose the right career path? Approach my writing “career” correctly? Buy the right house? Wear the right clothes? Choose the right doctor? Travel to the right places with the right cruise line/tour group/guide book? Plan our retirement the right way? My need for validation was obsessive, intrusive, and obnoxious.
Walking outside, surrounded by mountains and aspens and waterfalls and creeks, I finally had an answer: I am enough. I do enough. I have enough. I am a kind, compassion person. I hike. I write articles. I publish books. I savor in the delights of family and friends. I find joy in our Florida home as well as our temporary rentals. Larry and I have made the right choices in the past and will continue to do so in the future. I am exactly where I need to be. And I don’t need anyone to affirm that fact.
The weight I have been carrying for my whole life began to slide off my shoulders.
In an upcoming issue, I will be talking about my fourth book, Keep Calm and Bake Challah: How I Survived the Pandemic, Politics, Pratfalls, and Other of Life’s Problems. I hope the content or the cover or the fact that you have been following me for a while motivates you to purchase it. But it is okay if you pass. I am proud of what I did: the research; the interviews; the editing and re-editing, the organizing and picture selection; the moment when the carton of 20 books arrived on our doorstep.
One day, Larry and I will move to Colorado. I love our community in Florida, and I love the access to classes and warm outdoor pools. But we may eventually move to Colorado to be closer to our children. That’s okay. I am now a Mountain Mama. I belong in a place where hikes into the woods are minutes away, where I can take what the Japanese call “forest baths” among the aspens. God willing, I will get to do this while my legs can still carry me up steep gravel paths and my knees can still absorb the pounding on the way down.
I am enough. I do enough. I have enough.
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World has been published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. She recently published Fradel’s Story, a compilation of stories by her mother that she edited. Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.