In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend… I shall not leave you. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Mell has been a presence in my life for… well… ever, really. In 1953, before I was even a twinkle in my dad’s eye, Mell’s husband, Pete Schoening, and my dad were comrades on the 1953 American Expedition to K2, the second highest mountain in the world. In fact, Mell’s husband saved Dad’s life and the lives of four other men on that climb with his belay – known as The Belay amongst those familiar with mountaineering history. If it wasn’t for Mell’s husband I wouldn’t have been born.
Pete was an amazing man with a passion for life and adventure. And Mell, although maybe less well-known, was no less amazing than her husband.
My first memory of Mell is of a visit my family made to the Schoening domicile on Lake Washington when I was maybe seven or eight. I remember clearly Mell’s laugh – an exuberant, infectious, no-holds-barred royal gem of a laugh – the kind of laugh that never failed to make those within earshot start grinning. The Schoening children were there that day – ranging in age from a little older than me to a little younger – and a livelier, more energetic group of playmates I have never known. I remember swimming in the lake with them, gathering around a campfire later and roasting things over the coals, and I remember being in a dark room with the Schoening youngsters and being introduced to the joys of a strobe light for the first time.
Although neither my dad nor Pete had been at all religious men, they had both managed to marry themselves to women who were Christian Scientists. Actually, now that I think about this, Christian Science wives were perfect for those two outdoorsmen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dogma and “religiosity” in Mell’s or Mom’s denomination – no belief in eternal damnation, no belief in an anthropomorphic god who zaps his children to hell periodically, no fear, no guilt, no rigid strictures, or a literal interpretation of The Bible. In short, their wives’ religion made absolutely no demands on Dad or Pete to live any differently than they were already living, and Mom and Mell’s positive view that things always turn out alright in the end was probably a huge support to men who occasionally launched themselves out onto epic adventures in the highest mountains in the world.
In 2005 I published my first book of stories and essays, Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist. I started writing Blessings in April and I’ve never had a book pour out of me so easily and effortlessly. By Mother’s Day I had a rough draft ready to give to my mom for a Mother’s Day gift. And, because I’d made mention of The Belay and what I called “The Children of the Belay” (the descendants of those who had been roped up to Pete’s belay on K2) in my book, I also sent a copy to Mell – I wanted to get her approval before I published Blessings in a more public way.
A few days later Mell called me up. She told me that my book had really touched her and she wanted to share it with the rest of her family. Mell was my first book fan. By the time our conversation ended I was feeling all galvanized and inspired by her enthusiasm and encouragement – and ready to get Blessings published.
Over the next few months as I prepared my book for publication Mell’s unfailing support was crucial to me. She had the uncanny knack of always calling just as I was getting discouraged – right after some weird computer glitch stalled me out, or the printer stopped working, or I couldn’t figure out how to re-work the formatting. And her words of encouragement always set me back on track with a renewed energy. She helped me feel that what I was doing was important. She helped give me a feeling of mission.
A year or two after Blessings was published, Pete passed on. At the reception to his memorial service, several of his children began talking with me about bringing together the COBs (Children of the Belay) for a kind of reunion. The reunion took place the following August and it was a blast! The Schoening family put it all together for us, and even printed out t-shirts for everyone to commemorate the event. Mell played a huge part in all of that.
After Blessings I published several more books, and every time one came out in print I’d send a copy to Mell – my first fan. And every time she received one of my books Mell would call me, or email me, to thank me and offer her words of encouragement and inspiration.
Mell passed on a couple weeks ago.
Publishing my books is not going to feel the same for me now. I think it’s going to feel like it did the first time I climbed a mountain without Dad. It’s going to feel like there’s something – someone – missing from the whole experience.
I know Mell lives on in our memories of her, in our love for her, and her love for us – and I believe who she is has moved on to whole new adventures. I know her laugh is blessing others right now, as it has blest me.
But I miss her just the same.
And I really wish I could share this post with her.
Saw the movie Fury last night. Really powerful film. Great acting. Beyond gritty. If ever a war movie was an anti-war movie, this one is it.
I woke up this morning with scenes from the movie playing through my head – scenes of death and destruction, blood and cruelty, courage and war-honor. And, as I processed it all, two trains of thought emerged from the smoke.
One of the trains took me to a place of compassion and empathy for the soldiers in every time and every nation who have felt voluntarily compelled, or been drafted, to take up weapons and kill their fellow human beings. It occurred to me that if I had been a soldier watching that movie I might feel a kind of relief in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone – that the “reality” of war is a shared burden of responsibility, memories, and pain by all who’ve lived it.
The other train of thought took me to this place: There are no more lessons to be learned from war. Mankind has been fighting wars for thousands of years, and I’m thinking we’ve learned everything we needed to learn from that course, and it’s time for us to be done with it now. It is time, my friends, to graduate and move on to more productive and constructive Life-courses.
Some may say that the cycle of War is never-ending and unstoppable, but I do not agree. Cycles DO stop. There’s no law that says cycles have to go on for eternity. I believe there IS a natural law, though – a law of God (Love, Truth, Life) – that pushes mankind towards progress. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (the textbook for Christian Science) Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Every day makes its demands upon us for higher proofs rather than professions of Christian power. These proofs consist solely in the destruction of sin, sickness, and death by the power of Spirit, as Jesus destroyed them. This is an element of progress, and progress is the law of God, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfil.”
We’re surrounded by signs of progress, aren’t we? For all that we are bombarded with news of bigotry, sexism, racism, carelessness, greed, thievery, and murder – there is good going on all around us, signs of a mental stirring, or what Mary Baker Eddy would call a “chemicalization of thought” that is moving mankind towards decency. When we hear about slavery, racism, sexism, and bigotry – most of us in the United States no longer find these things acceptable – huge progress from just 150 years ago when slavery was still a part of our world, or just 94 years ago (in my dad’s lifetime!) when women didn’t have the right to vote or run for public office. This is progress, my friends, progress!
And I believe that progress will bring an end to the cycle of War, too. I believe that our world will find peace.
“What I term chemicalization is the upheaval produced when immortal Truth is destroying erroneous mortal belief. Mental chemicalization brings sin and sickness to the surface, forcing impurities to pass away, as is the case with a fermenting fluid… The muddy river-bed must be stirred in order to purify the stream. In moral chemicalization, when the symptoms of evil, illusion, are aggravated, we may think in our ignorance that the Lord hath wrought an evil; but we ought to know that God’s law uncovers so-called sin and its effects, only that Truth may annihilate all sense of evil and all power to sin.” – Mary Baker Eddy
… here’s my contribution today – the joys of life that never fail to put a smile on my face…