Hakuna Matata by Rebecca Via  My eyes snapped open. The ground was hard as it pressed against my body; I had been unable to get a good night’s sleep for the past four days. “Time to wake up,” a voice called out from outside my tent. “We have to start climbing in thirty minutes, no later.” A rustling to my left revealed my dad, who was maneuvering his way out of his sleeping bag, clearly more willing than I to expose his body to the frigid air that awaited us. Our climb up Mt. Kenya started four days ago; each day was colder than the last and now it was a mere five degrees. Neither of us had showered since we began the climb except for the rain and sleet that penetrated our skin and found a way to sneak into our hiking boots on the first day. The altitude made sure that my socks remained wet for the duration of our climb. I rolled over to unzip my sleeping bag, my movements heavy due to my two shirts, one sweatshirt, a jacket, a windbreaker, and the three pairs of pants I wore to stay warm. I crawled out of the bag, my eyes darting between my dad and my orange backpack, which pretended to be a legitimate climbing bag for the extent of this journey. Since I was wearing all the clothing I had brought with me, it held only my two water bottles and a headlamp, which quickly reminded me that I needed to fill the bottles in the stream that ran past my tent. My eyes connected with the transparent crystal blue eyes of my dad. Part of me always wished that I had inherited the blue in his eyes, but instead I was blessed with my mother’s hazel eyes--sometimes brown and sometimes green. I felt reassured by his look, which reminded me that by the end of the day we would have another adventure to add to our ever growing list. It was his look that gave me comfort and excitement because I knew it was an acknowledgment of all that we were, there in that moment. Excitement and comfort; as I thought back over my earliest memories of my dad these two emotions seemed to remain the same over the course of time. I remembered being four years old waking up at my vacation home in the Adirondacks. My dirty blond, Shirley Temple hair lay matted around my face as I walked to my parents’ bedroom. Something in my mind always stopped me from waking them, but I would stand by the side of their bed until one of them disturbed the stillness of the sheets. “Hi Mommy. Hi Daddy.” Naturally, they hid their resentment at being woken up so early given that I typically woke up around four in the morning. My mom was the first to move, “Alright Becca, let’s go down to the beach.” She couldn’t even move the comforter before I flatly rejected her motivation, “NO, Daddy do it!” I didn’t think much of her small grin as she curled back up in bed, “Oh what a shame, looks like she wants you, Carter.” She let out a slight laugh as my dad let me attempt to pull him to his feet. I bounded down the stairs in front of him paying no mind to the seventy- five- year- old oak floors that creaked under my four-year- old weight. The whole house was unchanged since it was built in 1925, and as a young girl it was my playground. The high ceiling and wooden beams of the living room made me feel like I was in a castle, and whenever someone played the piano in the living room (which was often) I thought I belonged in a movie. It was a center for my imagination as a child where I could play out the scenarios of being a princess, a warrior, an elf, or an Olympian. My dad always played a vital role in these adventures, making me laugh no matter the circumstances. That morning he closed the screen door quietly behind us and I stopped. The view from the back porch in the morning always made me stop, the sun just rising over the mountains that shone onto the lake making the water and sky full of vibrant blues, greens, golds, and violets. On other mornings the sun would penetrate through the fog that settled over the water encompassing the spiderwebs on the bushes in dew making them stand out against the green leaves. The whole scene was magical. To this day I always walk around barefoot in the Adirondacks, the chill of the early morning air never bothering my feet as they sink into the mossy ground. As we rounded the edge of the house I made out through the mist a small playhouse. It was ten by twelve square feet and maybe eight feet tall at its peak. The door, which was only five feet high, remained a perfect size for me, but as I stood outside looking at my dad I was struck by how tall he was. He stood 6’1” with an athletic build, broad shoulders, long legs, and a thick back. Similar to mine, his hair looked frazzled and curled up slightly in the back. In order to fit in the small home, he made himself small and squeezed into the room. A fake kitchen set and a small table with chairs, meant for me, were all that could comfortably fit inside my play space, but he sat in the chair all the same. We talked as I pretended to make breakfast, and politely asked him what he wanted and if he wanted more. He never failed and never disappointed me. He was my hero like an omnipotent being who didn’t need to ask for my admiration; I gave it willingly and without question. My dad’s hand pulled down the zipper of the tent letting in the cold air that hit me like a wall, clearly indicating that it was time to have some breakfast before we started another day. Our boots lay on the frozen ground at the base of our tent, and we both slipped them on easily as my dad put his arm around me. It didn’t help keep me warm, but we stayed like this until coming up to a breakfast table clearly unbalanced with its legs on different points of the ground. “What time is it?” Our mountain guide, Andrew, had come to Kenya from England when he was in college and never left. Andrew worked for an outdoor adventure company and had climbed Mt. Kenya many times; he knew the mountain well. “Two o’clock,” he responded casually. “If we leave soon we can make it to the top by sunrise. The rest of the climb is only four miles but it’s a little over two-thousand feet to the top.” Sitting in silence seemed natural because that early in the morning I don’t think any of us even had words worth speaking. I mulled it over in my mind, two-thousand feet in four miles seemed intimidating but in reality I had no idea what type of obstacles I would face. Once again I would plunge into the unknown as most of my life seemed to go. Our second guide suddenly interrupted our silence and sat next to me at the table. Lawrence was a native Kenyan, and based on his looks, a person could estimate that he was either in his late seventies or early eighties. The first day we met Lawrence my dad called him Lawrence of Arabia and the name seemed to just stick. He stood tall and upright, the wrinkles in his face matching the ones of his hands, which gripped an old walking stick. “Pole pole,” he would tell us meaning slowly in Swahili. During the days prior we would watch the clouds roll in behind us as we hiked the ridges, each day hoping to not be caught in the rain, but now in complete blackness we could not see where we had come from or where we were going. Even during the time it seemed like a perfect metaphor for life, and I’m sure my dad felt the same. I picked up my bag, filled up my water bottles in the stream, and checked my headlamp. It didn’t turn on. In a groggy voice my dad offered comfort, “I will be right behind you the whole time, this will make it more exciting.” I threw my headlamp in my bag and we began the climb, Lawrence in front, then me, Dad, and Andrew last. We walked in silence trying not to waste precious oxygen that felt thinner to my lungs when I took a deep breath. I looked up to see a trail of lights above us--a line of climbers that looked like flickering stars a thousand miles away showing us just how far we needed to go. “He has a long way to go, and there is no way to know how much movement he will get back. We need to wait for the swelling to go down.” The words of the doctor rang in my ears; I could not stop replaying them in my head. Four days earlier my dad had gotten a call from my aunt about my Uncle Danny. “Danny has been in accident, they had to air lift him from the beach,” my aunt said. “Susan, what happened?” I could tell something was horribly wrong. It was not often that my dad found it hard to speak. “He was boogie boarding. The wave broke and he landed on the board. The doctors said he broke his neck. He is still in surgery, but he is paralyzed from the neck down. Carter you need to get here as soon as possible.” She was panicked and trying to keep herself together for the sake of my cousins and my grandma. “Susan I’m on Fire Island. I can’t catch a ferry until tomorrow after church and I need to preach. But I will buy a ticket to Virginia right now for tomorrow night. Call me as soon as he gets out of surgery.” “Dad?” I finally asked. “Danny has been in an accident,” he found it hard to retell the conversation with my aunt, but he found a way to tell me as I gripped his hand and let my head fall into his chest. We sat there for a while both crying. “Will he ever walk again?” I asked hopefully. “I don’t know anything yet. The most progress for paralyzed patients happens in the first month of recovery. We will know more when we get to the hospital.” He was no longer crying but his voice was still shaken. I could tell the walls had come back up. We both knew like an unspoken rule my dad was the one that needed to stay calm. When everything was in chaos he needed to be able to keep things together. He does it at his own expense, but I know he doesn’t think he has a choice. So I just sat there with my head in his chest letting us both feel our own sadness together. “Hakuna Matata what a wonderful phrase…” my dad’s voice echoed through the darkness behind me, and without hesitation I responded, “It means no worries for the rest of your days…” At this point we were both out of breath, but singing was just what we needed to keep our spirits up. “It’s a problem free, philosophy, Hakuna Matata.” My hands reached out in front of me and I felt the hard ground crunch beneath me. We had been ascending for what felt like over an hour and the climb continued to become steeper. I grabbed onto the side of a large rock to propel myself forward enough to be able to lean against it. “We shouldn’t stop climbing,” said Lawrence in a thick Kenyan ascent. Dad came up beside me and pulled out a Pop-Tart. My eyes widened quickly, “Where did you get that?” He unwrapped it and handed me one as he quickly finished his own. I finished mine just as quickly; I don’t think I had ever tasted anything so good in my life. “Alright, now I’m ready,” I responded to Lawrence. My dad put his hand on my back and guided me forward. Light began to creep over the horizon, but we didn’t look back. The whole world was in a haze of gray that would eventually develop into color. We rounded another corner, which revealed a glacier pond to our left that marked that we were almost there. One more ridge to conquer. Since I had finished one of my bottles of water, I pulled it from my bag and filled it once again. I could see the peak. What had seemed so far away only yesterday was right in front of us. The haze of early morning was beginning to fade away, and for the first time I could see my destination; I could see the finish line. “Becca… we know this has been hard for you. It has been hard on all of us,” my mom could hardly find the words to continue, but my dad seemed to have found his strength while I sat there like a stone. “Becca, I lost my way. Becca I became so broken and I hurt you and I hurt your mother. I am so sorry, I ruined something that I will never be able to get back.” My mom found her voice again, “Becca, your dad is moving out. But I want you to listen to me carefully. I still love your father very much, but we cannot be together anymore.” My stone frame shifted ever so slightly, “Why?” The pain behind my dad’s eyes buried the pain in mine. “I fell in love.” His crying made me want to comfort him, but he continued, “I messed up and hurt you and your mother, I’m so sorry.” “We don’t want to keep anything from you, you can ask us whatever you want,” but I couldn’t meet her eyes; I needed to keep myself together. The first tear fell on my cheek, “I don’t want to know who it was. It doesn’t matter who it was. I love both of you no more or less than I did before and I know that neither of you will love me less. Whatever issues you need to work out in your relationship are separate from anything you will need to work out with me.” I wasn’t mad at him. I was never mad at him, but I didn’t let the pain of this betrayal hit me until he went away to rehab for a month. He could have easily been a thousand miles away. The joyful, exuberant, and charismatic father was gone. This person sitting across from my mother seemed like someone else, a distant relative of a man I once knew. His eyes were also filled with tears and I tried to remember the last time I watched him cry. There was a deep-set pain there in those blues eyes, the same eyes I had wished for as a child, pain different than anything I had seen before. As I sat down in front of my parents, none of the pain kept them from looking right at me. I sat in silence, whatever had to be said in that moment was not meant to be said by me. The final day of this climb represented the end of our third week in Kenya together. Boulders, ice, and snow replaced the sheet rock and gravel terrain. Physically I still felt strong; mentally I could feel the altitude begin to take an effect. Maybe this was how my dad felt when he had to come clean about the affair, as if emotionally and mentally he was failing. All of a sudden I began to question my ability to finish this climb, but I was so close to the top. It felt like one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life, but I had also never felt so determined. My mind was telling me to stop, just for a second, you can always keep going later. At that point the sun was beaming on my back, but I couldn’t feel its rays, I just felt the cold. My dad scrambled up the rocks in front of me and turned to look back down at me. I sat in the passenger seat in the car. My dad had one hand on the wheel. I looked over to him and he looked back at me. “What are you thinking about?” he asked. What I was actually thinking about was how I could be looking at the same person I had known my whole life only to realize I was just getting to know a fuller version of him. What I was actually thinking about was how curious I was to get to know him, and how much I wanted to know what happened in that month he went away. “I was wondering what type of things you were doing at that rehab place.” “The place was full of freaks,” he said with a laugh. “And you were one of them of course,” I was laughing, too. “Well I wasn’t as bad as some of them, but yeah I fit in great,” he continued. “It was good for me to get away and reset. Everyone needs help putting their life back together every once in a while. But there was this one guy that ran around with women’s underwear on his head.” “Well, if you bring something like that up you need to tell me the story behind it.” I felt normal again talking about adventures and memories, common fears and expectations, laughing and talking about the infinite reasons we have for life. “Don’t stop, it’s just one foot in front of the other.” His voice kept me going, the rocks were now covered in ice and I could see the final ladder that led me to the top. I grabbed his hand and he helped pull me up so that the ladder was right in front of me. The air was thin, but I was close. My hands gripped the rungs of the ladder and I came to stand right next to him. The sun had just risen and the sky was clear. In all directions the world opened up around us--first the glaciers and snow and farther out an open expanse and miles and miles without end. The world seemed different from 17,000 feet up, and in this moment our success could not be doubted, and I was glad to be there with him by my side.