I just finished reading a provocative new book by David Brooks entitled The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. It seems to be partially autobiographical as he struggles with what it is to live a meaningful as well as moral life. As he is a mid fifties man I suspect this book is partially inspired by a mid-life crisis at least partlly instigated by a failed marriage followed by remarriage. As an octogenarian geezer skier my lens for assessing his writing is what it is like to go beyond the second mountain metaphor.
As related to skiing when we are climbing the first mountain of being successful in our careers and raising a family our ego reigns supreme. Self absorption is a daily attitude. If we are wise enough maybe we can put aside ego to the extent we can be present with our partner and children. Too often however, we are neglectful of their needs and perhaps as well the greater needs of society. Our passion for skiing is in tension with our other commitments. We want to be climbing the metaphorical mountain and also want to be climbing the snow covered mountain. In climbing the first mountain there is always tension between the free time used for pursuing our sport and the recognition that society asks more of us in family and community. So in this first climb where do we find happiness and even more importantly joy?
I'll confess in my early days I was extremely goal oriented and obsessed with achieving success to lift myself out of economically deprived roots growing up on a farm. I fed on increasing both my financial status and professional achievements. But just as David Brooks points out, these achievements can leave an empty spot in your soul. I am thankful that I did not fully sell my soul to the achievement god and did find solace in some level of service to humankind in my teaching, advising and worship.
Setting off to climb the second mountain of focus on relationships, community and serving rather than feeding ego sometimes can be thrust upon you in unexpected ways. Late in my 59th year I was struck with kidney cancer. I was merrily moving along in my career and enjoying a responsible administrative post at Cornell University. However, facing the possibility of a premature death, I was able to make a radical departure in my life to climb the second mountain. My early retirement shocked many of my colleagues! However, I was delighted to move on to a more servant ordered life. People would ask me "What are you gong to do?" Eventually I put together a calling card with a list of my activities. My life became filled with giving back to both my family and my church and my community. I found myself happily and even joyfully doing mundane activities. I was both able to serve and find great satisfaction in just being. With the freedom from work, I was able to both give back and as well reward my passion for skiing.
Just as David Brooks points out, even though we have moral intentions and desires to be more relational, we are still flawed human beings. I guess we continue to be works in progress so even though we may have made progress in climbing our second mountain, there is still work to be done.
As I look forward to skiing in my 23rd year of retirement I am first of all blessed to have sufficient health to keep "climbing" the mountain. Also I a pleased to still have the energy to do volunteer work with my church, local museum and with the Red Cross. In the area of relationships, I am still working on being a better spouse, parent, grandparent and friend. As our Greek Peak Geezer Skier group ages out I am thrilled that whether we are still on the slopes or not, we are in a committed fellowship of monthly lunches throughout the year. I hope our little community is an example for others as we climb another mountain toward our final destiny.