By Catarina Dantas
“Dad,” I said, “how much longer ‘till we get to the next cable car station?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, “I don’t see any station nearby, we’ll just have to keep going.”
“Can you carry me, I mean, in your back?” I begged.
“You are too old for that,” was his crude and merciless answer.
I couldn’t take anymore walking. My lungs were heavining, I started losing my wind and my breath was failing. Muscles I hardly used were put to work, causing my legs to burn like never before. Each step felt like pure torture.
That moment I sincerely wished I could be a little girl again, so that my father would lift me up like a feather and put me on top of his neck as if in a saddle. I really miss that kind of thing. Why am I too old for that? Growing up is sometimes so inconvenient…
I still remember the last time my father carried me in this horseback style. My parents had just divorced and it was my first weekend off with my father. I was seven years old and we went to Ipanema beach on that Saturday afternoon. The car keys got wet and the unlock system wouldn’t work anymore. We had to walk all the way back to my grandparents’ house, in Copacabana, to get the spare keys. When I got tired of walking, my father carried me on the back of his neck the rest of the way. The night was falling and we had a lot of fun. Just chatting and singing and enjoying the moment. I felt so glee and joyful, it made me forget all about my parents divorce and the other complications surrounding me.
I can’t say exactly when, but suddenly I got too old for that. Now I was 12 years old and had the Alps before me. I was vacationing in France, where my father lived. I hadn’t seen my father for six months, so I was really excited to be close with him again. We went to Chamonix for a few days of summer in the mountains. My fondest memories of that trip are of the day we decided to go hiking.
At the beginning of that tour everything seemed perfect. The landscape, the beauty of nature, the birds melodies. Suddenly, however, I felt immensely tired and started losing my breath. My father wouldn’t carry me anymore and I had to use my own legs to survive in that mountain wasteland, where no rescue team or helicopters were available. I just wanted to turn back time and become little girl once more.
In vain, Sgt. Pitiless tried to cheer me up.
“Hey, I think saw a groundhog,” he said, he knew how much I loved groundhogs.
“Not now dad,” I grumbled. I can hardly speak, how could I possibly care about that?
“Come on,” he argued, “stop complaining. It’s not gonna help you.”
“We have been hiking for one hour and a half now. I’m tired. I can’t breathe. It’s a lousy way to treat your daughter.” I barely had enough power to complete that sentence. All my strengths had vanished.
“Just keep going Cat,” he fired back. “Enjoy the road.”
“You are mean and heartless!” I shouted as if it was my last breath of life.
“I know. Keep moving.”
He was right. The rest of the way I tried to get back to the good mood I had at the beginning of the day. My father handed me a chocolate bar and a bottle of water and it somehow lifted up my spirit. We tried to spot groundhogs and chatted about random things. Growing up no longer seemed so bad. Soon enough I was appreciating the view once again. Why was I complaining after all? It was probably one of the most wonderful places I had ever been to. And I loved being with my father. So I started enjoying myself.
Suddenly, I heard a mechanical noise. When I looked up I saw the cable car. At that moment, I felt a bit sad the journey was about to end. Fortunately, the next cable car would arrive only an hour later. As we had some extra time up there, we decided to explore the surroundings. Soon we found a kind of platform where we could lie in the grass for a while. I contemplated the sky above us, that wonderful cloudless vast blue. Stunning! Then I sat up and gazed at the mountains. In front of us was a cliff, with a perfect row of trees right in the edge. I just sat there, in awe of nature. At this moment I realized how growing up was inevitable and how ,despite this, we are able to hold on to these key moments.
It was then that my father grabbed a stone and went into one of his philosophic moods.
“Do you know where that pebble was formed?” he asked me.
I shook my head. “No idea.”
“It was formed inside a star,” he answered. “Actually, inside a third generation star, our Sun.”
“What do you mean?” I questioned.
He then started talking about the Big Bang and how the Solar system came to be. He went on and on, lecturing me on the million and one circumstances necessary for life to appear on Earth. I don’t remember his actual words and arguments, but it was quite a jump into hyperspace. The cable car finally arrived, forcing our spaceship to land.
That was a great day. I had no idea then of its importance to me. After I came back to Brazil and the school year started, I caught myself several times remembering our tour in the Alps and making some surprising analogies with my life as a teenager. Chances are I got some French philosophical virus in the mountains.
Hiking in the Alps was definitely tough, but it helped me comprehend something about growing up. You can have a nice start and all, but eventually problems will appear. Sometimes we are out of shape and the challenges ahead of us require more maturity than we think we have. The road often seems too steep and virtually impossible to climb. We think we will never reach the top and we even realize our parents are no longer able to carry us on their backs. All of a sudden, we need to move with our own legs. In spite of the obstacles in our way, we may find some extra strength, eventually.
And there is always a chocolate bar, a drink of cool water or a good friend along the way to encourage us. The journey may sometimes be rather steep, but it is also full of stunning views.
A final word I must save for that little rock from the stars. Life is indeed a great gift and our beautiful planet, a true blessing. While we grow up, even at the hardest moments, we must always bear in mind how lucky we are to take a magical mystery tour in the mountains.