THE BLESSING OF PLAN B
“You do not even know what tomorrow will bring.” James 4:14a
“Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayer.” Garth Brooks
The email came unexpectedly, but the timing was right. A two-year relationship I assumed would last a lifetime had just ended, and I felt like I needed a new challenge. My friend Vince, a former Canadian Olympic athlete, was putting together a twelve-day trek to climb—and name—a previously un-scaled peak in India’s Great Himalaya Park. He had handpicked a select group of twelve he thought could collaborate effectively as a team. The only requirement was that I commit to getting into “peak physical condition.” Admitting that a former Olympian’s admonition to work toward “peak physical condition” and my previously challenging work-out routine of twelve-ounce curls utilizing a bottle of beer might be at odds, I paid my hefty deposit, headed to the gym, and tried to find the Hindi words for “altitude sickness.” Truthfully, it was about two months out that I finally left the beer bottles behind and started simulating climbing conditions with a treadmill set on the steepest incline and a backpack filled with weights. There was only one problem when I shifted into higher gear—I could not breathe!
I am quite fond of breathing. I find it helpful for daily living. I had a feeling it would really come in handy when climbing mountains in the Himalaya. Thanks to a doctor friend’s connections, I was able to get an appointment with a pulmonologist within a few days. The pulmonologist, who turned out to be from India, told me in no uncertain terms—and in English: “You have asthma. You will not be climbing any mountains in India. Drink two beers and see me in a month.”
Thanks to a new friend in India, Ankit Sood, I was quickly able to put together an alternative adventure while my friends hiked in the Himalaya. While I know that Plan A would have been extraordinarily meaningful, and I was initially very disappointed to miss out on that rare opportunity, I am so grateful for the blessing of Plan B.
If not for Plan B, I would not have beheld the beauty of the Tirthan River Valley, the only river in the region unspoiled by hydro-electric development. If not for Plan B, I would never have shared a bottle of sharab (200 proof!) with the mayor of Gaidhu, who showed me such hospitality (as he was tending his goats) while I was on my way to the Secret Waterfall. If not for Plan B, I would not have had the privilege of visiting with eighty-year-old “grandmother,” who is the only person still residing inside the Great Himalaya Park and who offered me apricots from her tree and told me that the most important things in life are to love the ones you’re with, love the place you live, and leave it better than you found it. If not for Plan B, I would not have had a stimulating conversation over tea with Tashi Phuntsok, the Secretary of State for the Tibetan government in exile. If not for Plan B, I would not have hummed along in Hindi at the Sunday morning service at St. John’s in the Wilderness Anglican Church in Dharamsala; been inspired at Sikhism’s most sacred site, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where up to 200,000 pilgrims are fed each day; and would never have toured the first brewery in Asia (not open for tours!), Mohan Meakin, with brewmaster Gurchan Singh Bharma. If not for Plan B, I would not have been available with an alternative itinerary for my friends Herb and Everett after they had to hike back—two days into the Himalayan trek—after Herb severely injured his hand. They met up with me in Kullu, and that meant that three musketeers (or was that “stooges”?!) could join together for mountain climbing of a spiritual sort.
I thank God for the blessings of Plan B. My alternative adventure in India reminds me of the wisdom of Proverbs: “The heart of man plans his way. But the Lord establishes his steps.” For such an unexpected trek I am eternally grateful.