Gasping for breath as we crested the mountain, I stop breathing altogether. Oxygen is no longer of any importance in the face of such awe-inspiring purity, such startling beauty, the only thing that matters is what you can manage to absorb into your memory in this moment, what you can drink into your soul. The snow-capped mountains peeking innocently out of the miles upon miles of lushly green forest, all reflecting the vibrant oranges, deep purples, and astonishing pinks of the slowly setting sun, every color burning only into your subconscious, the exact shade lost forever.
Every muscle abruptly halting its anguished protests of rock climbing, even the blistered feet forget their cries, the fifty pound backpack a burden no longer, no mouth speaks, could any spoken word better what the eye can see in this moment? During the twenty-two days I spent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California last summer I constantly lived equally astounding moments, though none as distinctly remembered. Awakening with the sun, early starts characterized by clumsily gloved hands wrapped around steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Twelve-hour days commemorated by wondrous views and unseen dinners made hastily in the dark, wolfed down as gourmet, because the twilight never lasts long and wasting time eating is akin to asking for a frozen death.
The temperature plummets in minutes, though that is not an excuse to abandon your duties. Conversations whispered in the darkness while bodies snuggle closer to share warmth in the exhaled clouds of cold; nodding off to sleep under our hastily rigged tarps became more difficult each night, as friendships strengthened with each rousing day. Days like these, surrounded by new friends and breathtaking views, are when all the twelve members of our team came to startling conclusions about life; discussed in depth on the trails (or lack thereof), to keep our minds off the seemingly impossible, yet always accomplished, tasks.
There are no words to truly describe who anyone really is. Stereotypes will only make sense in one context. My personal epiphany came to me in a single moment of acute desperation, my fingers barely clinging to a sheer rock face: the more desperate I am, the more power I am giving to others.
Submitting to stereotypes, to insults, compromising your values, those are the powers you have deep inside yourself that you are knowingly relinquishing to others. America is the freedom to be free of those stereotypes, insults, humiliations and oppression, and at the same time, unfortunately, of responsibility, and of life itself. I have discovered the power of truly being an American when I discovered the power within myself.
I have the power to make decisions, or to decide to submit; I have the power to laugh, to love, and to hate, it is learning which power is appropriate that has empowered me the most.
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