But one has seen
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
― René Daumal
Daumal’s words are likely to ring true for most of us, I think. Whether we glimpse that “higher up” view through our religious experiences, through the satisfaction of attaining a long-sought goal, or through supreme moments of joy with friends and loved ones, our souls will feed on the memory long after the exaltation has passed.
When I read the quote above, I was reminded of a song my friend Ellis used to play on her guitar and sing to me during our college years. It was called “John Henry Bosworth” and it was written by Paul Stookey. As with many of the songs with which Ellis could always sing my blues away, the entire thing has stuck with me all these years and I’ve sung it often. This despite my never having heard the original version by Peter, Paul & Mary until I looked it up on YouTube to hear it while writing this post. (I must admit, I liked it better when Ellis sang it, even though I generally enjoy Peter, Paul & Mary. Their version is a bit more “twangy” which is not my favorite style. But I digress.)
The song has a very appealing message of a family whose happiness transcends the turbulent circumstances in the world around them. The story of Bosworth and his family is summed up in this final verse:
And I was wondering if you had been to the mountain
To look at the valley below?
Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley?
Did you know which way to go?
Oh the mountain stream runs pure and clear
And I wish to my soul I could always be here
But there’s a reason for living way down in the valley
That only the mountain knows
Most of us are blessed with at least a few of these mountaintop experiences that give us the ability to see beyond our immediate situation. While some have many more such happy memories than others, the opportunity is there for each of us to climb higher up and get the unique perspective that will inform our conduct as we live in the valleys. Of course, in this life we cannot remain at these lofty heights. But as Daumal reminds us, what we cannot see, once glimpsed, becomes something we can still know.