Reaching for the Tallest Peak

I always look for the tallest point around. Hiking in the wilderness, my eyes crawl along distant ridge lines trying to identify the tallest peak. Looking out over my New England hometown, there’s church spires. Bridge pylons. Lighthouses. Seagulls soaring complacent above it all. I’m not sure if this is human nature, to take in a landscape and focus on what stands out most. Or it might be a personal quirk and curiosity of how far upwards it would be possible to go, and to wonder what the view would look like from there.

When a friend encouraged me to apply to the Columbia School of Journalism, it felt like I was looking up again. A distant peak, and others alongside me could envision me on top of it, but I wasn’t sure if I could. My imagination suddenly, and curiously, failed me. Now, months later, I’m in New York, attending orientation alongside other fellow travelers who made the same journey on trails with different and distant origins. It’s a comfort that we all seem a little bewildered and unsure. Those very first days walking around New York, I wasn’t sure where to focus. There were the Power Point presentations that outlined what we could expect over the next year, and highlighted the accomplishments of those who came before us. Or the individual professors and students, all so accomplished in their fields and undertaking a year that would, with any luck, change their lives for the better. Or the prestige of the city itself, with its world-renowned media outlets and news tickers and magazine covers extolling the virtues of people raised and made here.

As I figure that out, though, the city skyline makes a nice substitute. There’s no shortage of places to explore, no chance of running out of new vistas to crawl over and under and through in this lifetime. I bike over the Brooklyn Bridge and watch other cyclists crest, on top for a moment, and then barrel down. Along the edge of the city I catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, and am reminded of the incredible history of this place and how many people looked up at that statue and then past it, trying to identify a home among all the peaks and valleys and sharp corners of this town. It’s times like that I become sure that I’m not alone, that we’re all looking upwards and aiming for something that seems out of reach, and that only our own actions will bring us closer to achieving it.