Friday, January 11, 2013

Emotional Sherpas

Lin, my love, is employed by the local school district as a sign language interpreter. Her assignment is a one-on-one 19 year commitment that has taken her through the public education system as she followed a female student all the way to High School graduation.  She was then assigned to a deaf preschooler. He suffers from Mitochondria disorder, which means he is also losing his vision.  This student is now in the 8th grade and likes to draw.  He recently produced the above portrait of myself and Lin. While he accurately captured Lin's natural good looks, it is possible he has overstated my physique. The mark on my cheek is a kiss imprint. Lin and I, after 5 years of dating, became engaged over the holidays and her student is very excited about it. So are we. 

Lin and I talk often about Everest. It comes up when I am holding out for a close parking spot at Costco, when we share what went on in our dreams, when we plan the spring planting of the flower beds. Ours is a life interrupted. I sometimes think about the people who serve in the military, how their home lives must go on without them for many months at a time, how during that time there may be someone shooting at them. I have mad respect for these people. Yet for those of us doing the leaving things are, in some respects,  easier.  We are busy with the situation at hand. If we worry it may be possible to do something about it. But the helpless worry that seeps into idle moments for loved ones back home is pernicious and the cumulative weight considerable. They are emotional Sherpas. 

Lin is dreading my leaving. Her daughter Rachelle, who teaches Kindergarten in Munich, will be flying home to Bellingham for a visit a few days before I depart for Nepal. It is a comfort to Lin that Rachelle will be close at hand. I plan to stay in contact on a very regular basis while I am away.  Everest base camp has Internet and cell phone connectivity. Most of what happens on Everest for the first several weeks is in fact quite uneventful and wholly undeserving of worry. I hope to communicate this. But still. 

"There is angst in the not knowing," Lin commented recently, "I don't climb. I don't know." She said that everything she hears about Everest is negative, so this colors what she sees. But she recognizes I am with good people and a good organization and the rest is out of her hands. Then Lin interrupts her own internal debate and says "If anyone can make it to the top of that thing you can!" 
Lin says she will miss me the entire time I am away, but hopes to manage this by staying busy, keeping a rhythm to her day to day life. "But the climb is not over until you come home and I kiss you and we have our meeting at the airport."

I asked my sister, Noelle, about her feelings on the climb. She will have both her brother and husband on Everest. "Part of the reason it has worked so well for Ty and I is we are good friends first," she started, "so I know how much it fills him up to do this. It regenerates him so the relationship is that much fuller when he gets back. I don't hold anything over his head in the way of baggage at home. I know he goes prepared and has a good team. If anything happens he is prepared. I don't think I have ever had a bad feeling when Ty has left climbing, but just whether he will stay healthy and make the summit or have a good time."
Noelle said her and Ty talk often about the Everest climb. At bed time they tend to discuss "the gravity of the climb, how long he is going to be gone, what he knows about the route, are there parts that concern him." During the day they tend to discuss logistics. Noelle knows from Ty's journals of past climbs that he tends to most miss the mundane things about life back home. "There are times I will make a lunch and think Ty is missing this." When I ask Noelle about managing her fears she says "Because our kids are so young I do feel particularly vulnerable to this thing. It's not anything I take lightly, but it's just compartmentalized."