In 2016, I was transferred to a position in Singapore shortly after the passing of my father. He had been struggling with health issues for over five years, surviving both cancer in 2014 and open-heart surgery in 2012. His health crises followed on the heals of the deaths of my brother-in-law from frontal temporal dementia in 2011 and my beloved grandmother in 2010. Two years prior to that, my ex-wife endured the awful experience of a stillbirth with a fourth child due to complications surrounding her contracting fifth disease. In short, nearly a decade of unprocessed grief had accumulated, and I needed someone to ask that one simple question: “You look like you are hurting right now, what can I do to help?”
Unfortunately, no one asked that question and I met failure head on. Failure, though, just marks a turn in the road, and so I set out on a journey down a new road to not only process that grief but to understand who I was at my core. When I got back from Singapore, I had work to do.
Needing to do that work, I took a pilgrimage to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, the mountain both Emerson and Thoreau had climbed long before my arrival collecting their ideas and thoughts. Underdressed for climbing a mountain on a rainy autumn day in New England, I set out in my thin hoodie on a trip with purpose and I walked in the footsteps of two key guides for my journey. I stood on a ledge and looked out over a valley that I had probably seen sometime in my childhood and asked that child, “What did you want me to become? Did I let you down?”
He told me to keep climbing, keep following those guides and come back next year. It was as if to say, “You ain’t getting any easy answers, old man!”
I went back in 2018 during a warmer season. Would have gone back in 2019, but was moving my life to Wisconsin, and would have gone in 2020 and this year, but, well … COVID. Still, I want to make it an annual pilgrimage. Maybe not that mountain, but some pilgrimage where I can face the good, the bad and the ugly of life and toss the unnecessary bits off the rock, knowing there aren’t any easy answers, just work to do.
So, if failure opens a new path for you, when you need to do the work, to face the good, the bad and the ugly of life, I recommend a pilgrimage. Wherever your inner seeker needs to go … go there. Make it someplace beautiful, significant and meaningful. Climb, toss the unnecessary bits off the rock, and treasure the good; and when back down from the mountain, do the good work that those bits demand.
Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.