Joan Didion: Marriage is memory, marriage is time
Zhuangzi: Someone lost, who does not know the way home

Mark Helprin: Climbing the mountain of grief

Garmisch_1 [Wallich is a photographer in Munich whose wife and son have been killed in a car crash. He takes a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a small town in the Bavarian Alps, planning to climb the Schreuderspitze. He spends months reading books about climbing, buys rope, and trains intensively for the climb. He falls asleep after a dream in which he saw his family leave him.]

...He was alone in the center of a sunlit snowfield, walking on the glacier in late June, bound for the summit of the Schreuderspitze....His stride was light and long, like that of a man on the moon. He nearly floated, ever so slightly airborne, over the dazzling glacier....

For several hours he climbed over great boulders and up a range of rocky escarpments. It grew more and more difficult....Zugspitze_1

He awoke, convinced that he had in fact climbed the counterfort. It was a strong feeling.....He rejoiced in his bravery in climbing. It had been as real as anything he had ever experienced....

It was early June....Two years had passed....He had not eaten in days, and was not disappointed that even the waking world began to seem like a dream....

On the mountain it was dreadfully cold. He huddled into himself against the wet silver clouds, and yet he smiled, happy to be once again on the summit....

At first he saw just a star or two straight on high. But as the mist departed a flood of stars burst through. Roads of them led into infinity....he saw something which stunned him.

The Schreuderspitze was far higher than he had thought. It was hundreds of times higher than the mountains Europe_from_space_daynight represented on the map he had seen in Munich. The Alps were to it not even foothills....Below him was the purple earth, and all the great cities lit by sparkling lamps in their millions. It was a clear summer dawn....

His eye settled quite easily upon Munich....There was Munich, shining and pulsing like a living thing, strung with lines of amber light--light which reverberated as if in crystals, light which played in many dimensions and moved about the course of the city, which was defined by darkness at its edge. He had come above time, above the world. The city of Munich existed before him with all its time compressed. As he watched, its history played out in repeating cycles. Nothing, not one moment, was lost from the crystal. The light of things danced and multiplied, again and again, and yet again. It was all there for him to claim. It was alive, and ever would be.

He knelt on one knee as in paintings he had seen of explorers claiming a coast of the New World. He dared close his eyes in the face of that miracle. He began to concentrate, to fashion according to will with the force of stilled time a vision of those he had loved. In all their bright colors, they began to appear before him....

[He wakes up, and takes the train back to Munich.]

As they pulled into the great station...he remembered that he had climbed the Schreuderspitze, by its most difficult route. He had found freedom from grief in the great and heart-swelling sight he had seen from the summit. He felt its workings and he realized that soon enough he would come once more into the world of light. Soon enough he would be with his wife and son. But until then (and he knew that time would spark ahead), he would open himself to life in the city, return to his former profession, and struggle at his craft.

        --Mark Helprin (1947-), "The Schreuderspitze", in Ellis Island and Other Stories (1981)


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