A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it…
Did any of them have to climb to the top to reap those rewards?
Well, no, actually. All of those people really had to do was climb one railroad tie. Not all of them. Just one.
There’s another famous hike on Oahu. I’ve mentioned Diamond Head, that great guardian of Waikiki Beach. It, too, served as a military lookout in WWII. Today, it offers another challenging hike up a hillside, through a tunnel, up a long, steep stairway to a reward of tremendous views.
On another layover a few weeks ago I was ¾ of an hour into that hike when I noticed the crowd ahead of me starting to pile up, apparently impeded by someone who was having some sort of difficulty. As I got closer I saw that there was indeed an elderly gentleman stopped at the side of the trail breathing hard. When I reached him I saw his crutches leaning against the rail.
This, I learned, was a fellow from Seattle, who’d never been to Hawaii, and was seeing as much as he could see. He had heard of the Diamond Head lookout hike and wanted to make it to the top. But because of his infirmity, what had taken me only forty-five minutes had already taken him a couple of hours, and he was feeling the strain. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go on from this point.
In the course of our brief conversation I asked him if he knew what was before him on the trail to the lookout. He listed the 74 stairs to the first tunnel, then the 99 additional stairs to the second tunnel. But he didn’t know about the two flights of spiral stairs to the very top. My question was simply this: are you able to climb stairs? He quickly and decisively averred that as long as he had something to hold on to, he could climb anything. I smiled and quietly congratulated him for how far he had come. And reminded him of how close he was to the end. And reassured him that from this point on there would be railings for him to hold on to. And told him I’d be waiting for him at the top.
With that I turned and climbed the 74 stairs and walked through the first tunnel. But I didn’t go up the next 99 stairs. Instead I waited. About 10 minutes later here came the man with the crutches. And for the first time I saw the massive effort it took for him to walk. He had the distinctive gait of someone who had been stricken with polio as a child, weight forward on his arms, supported by crutches, twisting to fling one leg forward, shifting his weight onto that leg, advancing the crutches, twisting to fling the other leg forward. Pace. By pace. By pace. One. Shift. Step. Shift. At. Shift. A. Shift. Time.
He exited the tunnel, looked to his right, and saw the 99 stairs to the top. He moved over into the shade and leaned against the wall to gather his strength. Five minutes later he began.
I watched as he placed his crutches on the first stair. Then one leg up. Weight forward. Second leg onto the step. Crutches onto the next step. Balance. Pause. Gasp for breath. Mission accomplished. Victory.
Another step. Mission accomplished. Another victory.
Then one more step. Then one more. Ninety-nine times. Ninety-nine separate tasks. Ninety-nine separate small victories. Then he was there. Through the second tunnel. I watched as his powerful shoulders, muscles rippling with development over a lifetime of compensating for incapable legs, hauled his crippled body around the spiral staircase. To the first landing. Stop. Breathe. Then to the second landing. Breathe. And he was there. At the artillery observer’s post. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean to the south.
Just in time to see a mother whale and her calf breach off in the distance.