How I Found Myself On Mount Kilimanjaro

5 years ago I had it all. I was the Agency Director for a PR-firm, I had a beautiful apartment, and I was enjoying all the pleasures of fleeting nature imaginable. I knew I was supposed to be feeling on top of the world, but my heart was very restless. If this is it, I asked myself, if this is the meaning of things, why does it feel like I’m stuck in an alley?

Rickard in his tent.
Rickard in his tent.

I decided to make some dramatic changes in my life—after all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So I quit my job, sold my apartment, and gave away my possessions to travel the world for a year. I hoped to find the cure to my dissatisfaction, the answers to my heart’s restlessness.

Three days into my “walkabout,” I met my future wife. I was sleeping on a porch in a backyard in Brooklyn (a story for a different time), and when I woke up my bride was sitting in the window drinking her morning coffee. I’m glad I didn’t know God’s plans for us then—the pressure and expectations would have overwhelmed the both of us. I had grand dreams where I was the sole protagonist; I imagined the content of my story dealt with feats and trials, not people and dialogue.

My future wife, Alana, and I started dating, but I was still trying to make sense of my life and—like many men before me—I decided that the answers to my most deep existential questions could be found on a mountain top. So I traveled to Tanzania to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. I thought surely at altitudes of 20,000 feet something profound would reveal itself to me, something that would move me closer to meaning, happiness, and peace. I was also convinced that in order for a man to find himself he needs to be alone, so I made the choice not to join a group and trek on my own.

As I scaled the mountain alone, my girlfriend was on a flight from New York to London for work. I had told her to text me to let me know she was safe after she had arrived. But I didn’t receive any text and I started to worry. I quickly became more preoccupied with checking my cell phone and finding good reception than exploring my soul and lapping up astonishing scenery.

5-KilimanjaroAfter 5 days of hiking, I had finally reached the final base camp, preparing to summit. Just minutes before I set off toward the peak, I turned on my ice cold phone with practically no battery left, to check it one more time. To my absolute delight I had a message from Alana, telling me she was okay and that she missed me. When I stood on the roof of Africa just hours later I cried tears of joy, knowing she was safe and doing well (perhaps the lack of oxygen played a role too, who knows). Nevertheless, I found the answer I was looking for. On that mountain top by myself—but not alone— I came to realize that it is when we stop looking inward and instead direct our thoughts and actions outward that we find meaning.

I took the first flight I could to London to meet Alana. Wearing hiking boots, unkempt facial hair, and the dust of Tanzania I walked into Harrods department store and bought an engagement ring. Three months later, after introducing Alana to my family, I proposed.

The mountain played its role, but I’m not certain it was necessary. Man cannot live without love and it’s only when he encounters it and starts participating deeply in it that things starts to make sense. It is the discovery of another person—the promise of intimacy—that takes us to higher places.

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