Retiring on Mount Kilimanjaro


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.

Thanks and Regrets

Have you recovered yet from the deluge of thanks that were supposed to be given and received yesterday? Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it was less commercial than Christmas, Halloween, Easter and all the other holidays of my childhood. Was less commercial. It is slipping into the commercial morass of the other holidays. Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem as important as family dinner. People are thankful for good price savings.

I read an article awhile ago that was written by someone who worked in palliative care and dealt with patients who had gone home to die.

Mortality makes us thankful and regretful. I know that when I am at a funeral or even hear about someone’s untimely death, I always think about my death and try to be thankful for all I have, but also tick off the regrets for what I have not done or haven’t been thankful for.

The writer said that there were five common regrets or things they would do differently and I wrote them in my blogging notebook. I suspect many people reading this page share at least a few of them.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The wording of those five is interesting. Take that fifth one. I might have said “I wish I had been happier,” but that doesn’t recognize that happiness is a choice.

Lately, I have been not working full-time and have theoretically had more “free time.” I should be seeing more of my friends. But I think I have actually seen less of them somehow. Why is that? Next week, I roll back into a more full-time life again, and so I regret not having taken advantage of the free time I had the past year or so.