There they were in full-length habit, an unlikely sight on a Sunday morning hiking Mt. Wilson. Out of the blue, three nuns rounded the switchback straight ahead of me. They were coming down; I was heading up. No matter how promising the skies at the start of the trip, the southern trail descends into a merciless sun. They had to be broiling by now.
These suburban mountains lure all sorts of pilgrims on weekends—mostly first-timers, families, and well-meaning health-seekers who are ill-equipped for the incline. One minute you’re strolling in the park and the next you’re crawling up an unforgiving peak. It’s a lot like life: the path is steep. That’s why I’d found refuge in my practice as a Zen Buddhist priest. Zen teaches you to take each moment, like each step, one at a time.
This morning my step was heavy. I’d taken to the hills after an angry talk with my teenager and a tiff with my husband. I was still steaming as I stopped and stood to the side of the narrow path, letting the first two sisters pass.
They were talking and barely took notice, but the third was falling behind and as she approached she said, “So much farther to go.”
“Always farther to go,” I said, and then, struck by the words, went a little further, asking where she was from.
“From the Motherhouse in Alhambra,” she said, taking a card from a rubber-banded batch in her hand and holding it out to me. A meeting on a mountain is not without purpose, and she had come prepared to save someone’s life. Despite our religious differences, maybe that someone was me. I ventured another step.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Sister Imelda, like Imelda Marcos. Except I don’t collect as many shoes, but more souls.”
We both laughed, and my burden lifted. Two souls meet on a mountain, and although they come from different sides, they close the distance one step at a time.