Climbing the Mountain

Today was a day to celebrate. I have a student who is defending her thesis next week. She’s brilliant and hardworking. She has a lot of data, but up to today, the data told a story of things tried and their outcomes. Today, that changed.

The student is making a new kind of material, and when she proposed it, her committee was very supportive but expressed serious reservations about whether or not the approach was possible. Those reservations are well founded. It wasn’t going to be easy.

Way, way back in my youth, I climbed fourteeners in Colorado. Climbing mountains is a funny business. It sounds incredibly hard, but when you get to the base of the mountain, if it is a clear day, you can see the top. It’s there. It’s doable. Then you start climbing.

It goes from being doable to impossible. Every step hurts. Your lungs scream for air. Your body burns. Your head dreams up awful things it would rather be doing. You will not make it to the top. It’s too windy, too wet, to hard. You suck on lemon drops to make your mouth stop hurting.

But, if you keep taking step after step, you’ll get to a ridge. I’m sure that some mountains don’t have ridges like this, but the ones I climbed always did. It is the spot where the top is in view again. Where you know you’ll get there. You can see it, feel it, and all the pain goes away. You still have to work, often very hard, but you’ll do it.

Today was that day in my student’s project, where she saw the mountain top again. She will get to the top of the mountain, and it is one heck of a beautiful view.

As hard as it was, I always loved mountain climbing. The one thing I love more, is getting to be a companion on the climb. Watching her as she has that moment is one of the greatest gifts I have had. I’m going to stay on the ridge and watch her summit, and it will be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

There are moments I truly love this job. This is one of those moments.

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