Fighting the uphill battle –at least metaphorically – has become a major theme in my life. Long ago, I acclimated to that void beneath the sheets where my left arm once slept. I’m well versed in the difficulties such a “disarming” reality brings to the proverbial table.
But right now my table of metaphor is toppling down a very real hill. Figurative dishes of meatloaf and peas careen end over end, landing on literal boulders, dunes, and bushes.
There’s nothing allegorical about today’s uphill battle. I have to prove, right now, that I’m still worthy of combat status despite the loss of my limb. This is the final hurtle. Ten unreadable eyes are tracing my movements as I climb up this hill toward the sun. They belong to five high-ranking officers who decide my fate.
Do I go home today thinking, Yeah, I gave combat my best shot? Time to move on. Or do I possess the will to stand beside the best of them, true warriors, rifle in hand?
The gun I grasp today is not a simile for fortitude or my fight against the impossible. The steepness of the climb and the difficulty of forward motion don’t parallel some blah blah motivational philosophy about conquering hardships “one step at a time.” The sweat – and blood – darkening my fatigues are very real.
At each spot that I crash behind cover, my rifle lays down suppressive fire—enough to build a shrine out of shell casings that glint beneath a noon sky. My weapon roars bullets like a lioness pouncing on prey. Wisps of smoke curl out of my gun’s overheated barrel and it hushes rarely—and only to inhale the ammunition I feed it without pause.
I roll out from the safety of my boulder and crash behind a dune. From cover to cover, up the hill I charge, one painful barrel roll, one sloppy step at a time.
My reckless performance rattles every tooth and all my bones. But I have no choice. A one-armed soldier’s dictionary defines “dropping to prone” as “falling hard.” There’s no other way for me to land. Unless I quit the fight. Unless I don’t leave my bed at all.
We don’t call it quits.
With time and reflection, I find my actual uphill battle today is not insurmountable. All around me, every day, I see people beating cancer. People climbing out of spiraling depression, or enduring the loss of a loved one.
I faced an explosion in the form of a mortar shell. No less shock and awe than a stroke, or losing a job, or waking up to find your spouse has left you. I see people every day fighting hard through the obstacles strewn on their path, whether financial, emotional, medical, or otherwise.
And how do we get to our summits when, more often than not, we have do so unarmed?
I conquered the hill that day. For me it required patience, discipline, and not a little stubbornness. The brass approved my return to combat, and eventually I achieved my dream, reaching the Special Forces.
But I discovered that my battle didn’t end at that summit. You can beat the enemy across the battlefield, and still find yourself surrendering to the opponent within. This internal struggle won’t end until we do. And I’ve learned that’s okay. Because on the days that I’m strong enough to reach my own peak, the other uphill battles don’t feel very uphill at all.
These bruise-inducing climbs are an unavoidable fact of life. It’s whether we try to mount them, however inelegantly, that matters most. Do we turn tail or reach for the sun? How do we deal with the arm tied behind our back? How do we deal?