What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing on a Glacier Like This?
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Whatever was left of my consciousness was blissfully suspended, surrounded by the inky black void. It felt like a soft embrace from the darkened stillness, like the most satisfying of subtle caresses, and filled my being with a deep and profound sense of peace.

 

Then, some part of me knew: this is my entrance into the afterlife.

 

What I can only describe as my etheric body had the memory of just having passed through some invisible portal where time itself seemed to flow over my skin.  I detected this movement, since the space around me was now exerting a slightly different density against my soul-body. On this side of that portal, I found myself floating freely within the vast emptiness.

 

As my awareness gained a small measure of focus, I felt I was expanding into a supreme state of serenity that was not of the material world I had once known. I basked in peacefulness and sublime pleasure while untethered from my body, unencumbered even by the mental constructs of my mind within the dark and endless void. Without any connection to my physical body, I enjoyed the weightless sensation as I floated around ecstatically in the endless sea of bliss.

 

Soon, tiny bits of emotional memory and various images started to come together from the outer edges of space. I saw lighted flashes of memory, like physical objects dropping out of the darkened expanse. Ideas about how I had arrived at this state started to gently coalesce as individual fragments were grouped into larger thought forms.

 

Ah, yes, I was hiking in the mountains of Colorado on vacation. I had lost my footing at the top of the glacier and careened down the steep, icy slope before I slammed into the rocks. Well, if I didn't feel anything after that impact, then I must be dead.

 

Even as I tried to orient my awareness within this timeless expanse, the thought that I might be dead made sense. There’s no way I could have survived after crashing into those rocks so fast. This idea seemed to enhance my peace and satisfaction as I entered this new realm where I explored the burgeoning awareness of my death.

 

Dying was actually pretty easy, I mused. That's funny, considering all the years I had suffered from depression and yearned for this very moment of relief. A long time ago, I ached to find a permanent way to escape my grief and emotional pain after Mom died. To that end, I spent a lot of time musing about how I could kill myself. How curious that those rocks had just provided me with the release I had fantasized about so much. I marveled at the relative ease of this painless transition. Who knew it could happen so fast, especially after such a glorious day hiking up the mountain and over to this glacier?

 

In the sweet bliss of my experience, I could almost see simple thoughts gather and take form before they’d gently drift away. I watched as a new thought floated in, this time in the form of a question. When will I see the light? I felt a thrill of excitement to think that I would soon find myself entering the tunnel of light. I had read about people who had passed to the other side and encountered loved ones who greeted them on the way. Who will I see? I wondered in anticipation.  Will it be Grandma or Mom? I’d love to see Mom, I thought. It’s been almost 20 years since she was on earth. My eagerness and delight grew at the prospect. I want to see the light. Where is the light?

 

I continued to wait, anticipating that someone would soon come for me. But there was no light. No one to come and guide me into the tunnel.

 

As I waited, I began to explore my new and peaceful reality. I watched as another thought arose out of the stillness: Can I still feel my body? I decided I wanted to test this idea. So I gathered the energy necessary to create a command to blink my eyes.  But after successfully opening and closing my eyes, everything around me was still dark, quiet and peaceful.  Are my eyes really open if nothing has changed and all I see is black? Wondering if I could feel my body, I then asked my fingers to move, generating a slight ripple in my expanded quietude. Then another idea arose. Can I move my hand up to feel if my eyes are really open? I issued the thought, and my arm seemed to be moving slowly toward my face. But instead of my eyes, my fingers felt the edge of my sunglasses. And my nose felt the glasses pushing up against it. Puzzled by this unexpected sensory feedback, I slowly lifted my sunglasses and finally saw the light. But it wasn’t the one leading me into eternity. It was the light of day, a clear blue sky.

 

Oh, wow, I am alive.

 

I instantly recoiled from that thought.

 

Oh, no. This can’t be good.

 

I closed my eyes against the insistent pull from the physical world. Grieving the sudden loss of peace, I dreaded the implications that flooded in at the thought of being alive.

I did not want to deal with the reality of what might have happened to my body after hitting those rocks. I opened my eyes again, blinked a few times, then slowly looked down at the sunglasses, which were caked with snow. Oh, so that’s why I could only see the blackness.  But what about the peace? The floating? The serenity? The portal of energy I had passed through?

 

The yearning to go back to the three-dimensional world was growing stronger, yet I was still reluctant to respond to the demands of living.

 

A morbid sense of curiosity pushed at me to take an inventory of my body. If life had won out over death, I wanted to find out what parts of my body still worked.

 

Am I paralyzed? After slamming into the rocks at such a high speed, I had to confront that possibility. With a keen sense of trepidation, I cautiously lifted my head and shoulders like a corpse rising from the grave. Not paralyzed, I thought with relief.

 

Good. That’s a start.

***

Krista, my girlfriend, put down her tea and interrupted my story . “Where was Doug when this happened?” she asked.

I shook my head and tried to bring myself back from recounting my experience.

“Doug?” I replied distractedly. “He was still somewhere back up on the glacier.”

 

Krista knew that Doug had seduced me into this vacation with the idea that we could have fun as we climbed the icy expanses.  She had heard about the ups and downs of our relationship over the past two years and still didn’t quite understand what drove me to follow him into the wilderness.

 

“So were you still lying on the snow?”

“No, I was on the rocks,” I moved my hand across my front to show how my momentum had carried me, “several feet beyond the glacier’s edge.”

 

That would be Andrews Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park, where Doug and I had spent the day climbing and hiking at 12,000 feet. The glacier was at the top of a steep gorge lined with jagged grey boulders as far as the eye could see. The massive icy sheet was covered with a thin layer of snow as it descended into a V-shaped gorge between the towering walls of chiseled granite rising up on either side. We were far above the tree line, even at the bottom of the glacier, so this was a rocky paradise with huge blocks of stone impeding the full view down the entire valley. The wind was much calmer at the bottom of the glacier than when we were exposed on the open plateau

***

Back on the glacier, Doug, the man I trusted, had navigated the ice and scrambled over the rocks to be at my side. He had taken this route before and was the experienced climber to lead us on what was supposed to be my first day hike on a glacier. He had planned our route and instructed me on my equipment and technique with an attention to detail worthy of the brilliant engineer that he is. As I followed him deeper into the wilderness on the few climbing weekends we had shared, Doug was more than generous and patient with his instruction and support. He was not the kind of man to display strong emotion himself and had never been comfortable when I shed tears. But when he came to my side, and squatted down, his eyes were wide as saucers, and filled with disbelief.

 

“You’re alive! Cheryl! Oh, my God! Are you okay? I saw you hit,” he gasped, “I thought you died.”

 

His mouth, which before had covered me in kisses, was now pulled taut with fear. His brow was furrowed as tightly as his eyes, which had recently looked at me with love, but were now frantically scanning my body, trying to analyze the situation.

 

Only after I turned my head to look at him did I notice that my chest had started rapidly heaving up and down and that my breath was escaping my lips in quick, ragged bursts. Then the shuddering started, my whole body shaking uncontrollably as the effects of shock set in.

 

“What did you hurt?” he asked, bringing me into focus with those beautiful blue eyes.

 

Good question, I thought. I wanted to think about the rest of my body, but my head felt like it was filled with lead and moved very slowly. I was just starting to accept the idea of having arms and legs again. I opened my mouth to respond, but my teeth were chattering hard, and no words came out. I was shaking so violently, I was afraid that I’d bite through my tongue if I tried to talk. I opened my mouth repeatedly, trying to coordinate my breathing to form intelligible sounds.  It took several attempts before I could finally spit out a response, “M-m-my r-r-right f-f-foot.”

 

Yes, I was alive, but my mind was altered and my entire body was now shaking horribly. Can’t I just blink and start this day again?

 

My eyes looked to the right and slowly I dragged my head to follow them. I started taking in the extreme desolation of my surroundings. Everything around had the dull grey shading of rocks and boulders as far as the eye could see. No trees. No plants. Just rocks. My mind slipped into a repetitive loop, demanding over and over again, “Where’s my ‘do-over’? Don’t I get a ‘do-over’?”  I closed my eyes hard and willed the situation to change. A childhood television memory of Jeannie blinking her eyes to get Major Nelson out of trouble inspired me. So I blinked for my "do-over." But nothing happened. I blinked again, harder. After several ever more increasingly hard blinks, nothing around me had changed. I was desolate. I could not turn the clock back, escape the crash and avoid this whole situation. No, I was still injured, hyperventilating and in shock, miles from a trail, and had no one but Doug to help me.

 

Also, I didn’t have the luxury of calling 911 and sitting back to wait for a paramedic to come. I closed my eyes and thought, how wonderful it would be to simply lie down and allow myself to die. That seemed infinitely better than the pain and fear that was starting to consume me. If I didn’t get a "do-over,"  couldn’t I at least be left here to die? I willed myself to return to that dark and peaceful realm. Death as an escape had been so tantalizingly close. 

 

But all that was to no avail. I opened my eyes and looked down at my shaking body. I was not dead; it seemed I could not will myself to die. Death was no longer the easy escape. Darn, darn, darn. No "do-over," can’t die. My mind was fixated on these options, as if sheer force of will could cause a change in my circumstances. As much as I loathed the idea, I knew I was going to have to deal with the painful ruin that was now my life. My heart was beating so fast, I thought it would leap out of my chest. My breath was going in and out too hard and too fast. God only knows what's broken. What a mess! Oh, my God! What will I do?

 

I turned and saw Doug’s face, pressed close to mine. He was looking at me wide-eyed and ashen, as though he were in shock himself. Okay, he’s no help, I decided. So my mind kept searching for what I could do. I knew I would have to stop shaking and hyperventilating if I was going to get out of this alive. A peaceful death was no longer an option. My goal was now to avoid even more pain and the prospect of slowly freezing to death.

 

A barrage of thoughts started flying around inside my head; the swirl was almost dizzying. I had to sort through it to capture anything useful. What about taking Arnica? I thought. Yeah, that homeopathic pill would help with an injury. But it was back in the tent. Well, that’s no help. Jeez, I’ve got to stop shaking! What can I do?

 

Then another idea popped up: the Emotional Freedom Technique. Could tapping really alter my breathing and shaking?

 

Luckily, I had tapped those points many times before. “Please, please, please,” I prayed, “help me do it right.” My fingers were fluttering wildly as they searched for the right locations to tap on my hands and around my face. I could only stutter the phrases in unsteady bursts as I stated my intention to calm myself down. My hands were so unsteady I was worried that the technique wouldn't be effective.

 

Doug was looking at me as if I’d gone crazy, stuttering and tapping myself. But I didn’t know what else I could do to help me return to some normal level of functionality. When I was done, I thought, wow, my shaking and chattering has dropped by 70 percent! Doug looked dumbfounded. “Wow. How’d you do that? You’ve stopped shaking, and your breathing is more normal.”

 

I was amazed at the transformation myself. But I waved him off, unable to form an intelligible response from the scattered thoughts that continued to ricochet around the insides of my head.

 

Now that I was shaking less, we both turned to address what was wrong with my foot.

 

“Can I take off your boot to check your foot?” he asked. I nodded to him and he unlaced the boot before gently pulling it off my foot. We both saw how swollen my right ankle had become. With one hand on my calf, he gently held the arch of my foot up and moved it so my toes went in a small circle. I felt an eerie grinding sensation, as if there were gravel in my ankle, and then a searing pain shot up my leg. “Stop!” I cried, as my leg recoiled from the intensity.

 

Doug stood there, tall and lean, looking down at my foot. Towering above me at 6’4”, he cut a striking silhouette against the barren landscape.

 

“It’s probably just a sprain,” he enthused. “I sprained my ankle once. It got big and swollen like this,” he offered, trying to sound positive. I was desperate to hear some good news, so I went along and accepted his assessment. A sprain wasn’t so bad and was a small ray of hope that things might work out after all. He carefully slid the boot back onto my foot.

 

“Let’s see,” he reflected. “If you can put some weight on it, then I can help you down the mountain.” Towering above me, Doug crouched down, wrapped his arm around my waist and helped me stand on my left foot. I lowered my right boot gently onto the ground.

 

“NO!” I gasped, jerking my leg back up. It felt like a bolt of lightning shooting up my leg, even when I applied the slightest bit of pressure.

 

He eased me back down, and I sat there, hanging my head in defeat. If I could not walk, there was no hope for me to get down the mountain. Now I would surely die. But this time I would be cold and it would be a slow and painful death.

 

In the quiet and stillness of the canyon, I was very present to my consciousness as it slowly started to move away from me. Crowded out by the injury, shock and pain, I felt as if I was watching my soul make a steady retreat from my body. Then I felt something else rise up. A primitive force had emerged from some place deep inside me and started to galvanize every resource I had. It fed into my thoughts and fueled my will to survive, then moved through me and seized control of my limbs. Rapidly taking command, the force turned all of my attention and energy to these simple edicts: Preserve your body. Get to safety. Seek out help.

 

I now was clear that I had to get down this mountain. If I didn’t, I would surely die.

 

Doug returned from hiking back up the mountain a ways to see if his cell phone would connect. “No signal,” he reported as he shoved his useless cell phone back into his pocket.

 

“I could go for help, but I don’t want to leave you here,” he said, looking down at me. “And I can’t carry you through this stuff,” his voice rising, sweeping his hand toward the floor of the canyon, crowded with jagged boulders. “I just can’t,” he spat out in desperation. Then, ever the pragmatic engineer, Doug started listing our non-options all over again. “It’s so late in the day, no one will be coming up the canyon, and we haven’t seen anyone else for hours.  We’re at 12,000 feet and I can’t reach the rangers on my cell. I can’t carry you…”

 

As I heard his words, a cruel realization slowly came to me. All around me, rock, rock, and more rock; nothing but rock as far as the eye could see. I had come to the mountains because of my love of rocks. That painful irony cut a sharp and bitter path to my heart. Now the only thing that stood between me and any hope for survival was this endless sea of huge, magnificent rocks.

 

I continued to sit there, staring at all the boulders through the heavy fog that had settled inside of my head. Doug continued on, offering up his litany of non-options, but his words only seemed to hover in the air above me. As much as he tried to shape a plan for my safety, the words only fell to the ground beside me before blowing away in a gust of wind. In that moment, my desperate hope for rescue also vanished.




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