Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he enough to write them well. ”  – Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro


I reread Hemingway’s short story this week about Harry, a writer in Africa who is dying of gangrene. He is on safari with his wife Helen, and they are stranded in camp, because their truck has broken down.

As Harry thinks about his life, he regrets that he has never reached his potential as a writer. He took an easier life of marrying wealthy women.

“Each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.”

I don’t think I’ve read that story since my college days and now it feels very different. It’s a tale about the regrets we have in life.. That’s what it was about back when I was an undergrad too, but now it’s not a cautionary tale about how to live your life to come. It’s about looking back at it.

In college, I wanted to be a writer. I am a writer. I write every day. But I don’t make a living at it, so I can’t hang that title on my office door.

I don’t have as many regrets as poor Harry. There he is on his cot feeling death lying on his chest like a hyena. Harry dreams that a man has come with a plane to rescue him, but as they are flying he sees the snow-covered top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and knows that is where he is going.

Happily, I don’t see my own Kilimanjaro in the distance. I hope I still have the time to write the things that I have saved, and that I can do a better job of writing them now.

“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai’, the House of God. Close to the western summit there is a dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”

We are all like that leopard, and no one else really can understand what we are seeking.