First, you should know that I did actually almost get stuck on a volcano once, but don’t worry because it wasn’t an active volcano. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Also, this wasn’t my first brush with volcanoes. I lived in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. And I vividly remember waking up to our entire world being covered by sooty ash.
But that’s a story for another post.
What I want to tell you about in this post is the time I almost got stranded on Volcan de Agua in Guatemala.
I’ve written in other posts about how I did my student teaching in Guatemala. (You can read more about it here.)
I did my student teaching my last year of college with some other students from my college, Malone University. In addition to doing my student teaching, I also took a few other classes to finish my credits to graduate.
I had to fulfill a P.E. credit. One of the things that had excited me about the trip was that in a description of it, I had read that I could climb a volcano while I was in Guatemala to fulfill a credit.
That was the deal: As a group, we would go one day to a local, inactive volcano and climb up and down it for a P.E. credit. Okay, that sounded easy enough.
The day of our volcano climb, our Guatemalan guide Jaime (pronoun Hymee) led our intrepid group of college students up Volcan de Agua. It took us four hours to climb that volcano, and it was an uphill climb the whole way.
Jaime was so used to climbing the volcano that he could actually run up and down it in an hour. Most of the other students in our group ran cross country or track. I, on the other hand, did dance class as my primary exercise. And I soon discovered that dance class had not adequately prepared me for hiking four hours straight uphill on rugged volcano terrain.
By the time we reached the top, I was completely exhausted. My legs were shaky and felt like jello. It’s okay, I told myself. Surely it will be easy going down.
So, it was worse. Way worse. The volcanic sand was loose and slippery. I kept slipping and sliding and jolting and catching myself. My knee joints felt shocked and battered, and my leg muscles felt like they would give out any moment.
Halfway down I said to Jaime, “Can we please stop and rest for a minute?
He looked at me cheerfully and said, “So sorry, we must keep going to reach the bottom before sunset. Ladrones* come out after dark.”
I burst into tears; I was ready to quit. And I didn’t care if the ladrones got me.
Jaime walked over to me and was all sympathy. “It’s okay”, he said. “I will hold your hand. You will make it.”
And he did.
He held my hand all the way down the rest of the volcano, and I did make it.
If it wasn’t for Jaime, I would probably still be stuck on Volcan de Agua.
Today I was walking at the arboretum. It was my first long walk of the spring, and while I was walking, I thought to myself, “I have so much more stamina than I used to.”
And that’s when I remembered the time I almost got stuck on the volcano. Jaime could have mocked my tears and exhaustion. He could have asked me why I wasn’t as tough as the other students on that climb–none of whom burst into tears during our descent. And he could have responded to my vulnerability with anger, criticism, and condescension.
Instead, he held my hand.
And that got me thinking about all of the other times in my life when I was vulnerable, freaked out, and at my wit’s ends. I was a pretty sensitive and anxious kid growing up and in my teenage years.
Okay, I am still really sensitive and anxious at times.
I remember having so many adults, mentors, friends, and, luckily, my parents, who responded to my moments of vulnerability by holding my hand.
And today while I was walking in the park, I remembered the other day when a student came to office hours. The student was having a particularly rough time and had fallen behind on her work. She was vulnerable and anxious and near tears. We talked together, and we figured out a plan to help her finish well.
As she left, she looked at me and said, “Thank you for listening and caring.”
I thought of her today as I was walking in the park, and I thought of Volcan de Agua and Jaime.
And mainly, I thought, I want to be the kind of person who when you are stuck crying on a volcano, I will hold your hand, and we’ll make it down together.
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