As a Tennessee native with five-generation-old roots in the Smokies, Ezra Adams knows the Appalachian Mountains. He grew up there. He leads his students on trips there. He sleeps warmly there.
But he yearned to test himself in less hospitable land. To venture into the high country. To experience the Colorado Rockies. And this June, with the aid of an Outward Bound educator scholarship, Ezra Adams did just that. He spent 14 days backpacking in the Colorado wilderness – climbing peaks, hiking through wildflowers and gaining confidence, patience, empathy and clarity.
But Ezra’s journey into the Colorado Rockies was not his first climb.
Ezra was 23 when his father died suddenly, and then 12 years later, he lost his mother to a 19-month battle with cancer. With each loss, Ezra encountered ever-greater peaks he knew he must ultimately surmount.
“My mother’s extended illness presented the greatest challenge,” Ezra said. “Surviving the inevitable anger, repeating the words of comfort and assurances of love, and endless drives through the mountains from eastern Georgia to eastern Tennessee for another weekend visit – because the time for visiting would soon pass.”
Ezra’s mother died with great dignity, treasuring her last moments as the end of a great adventure.
“One visit found us enjoying a new restaurant for a summertime lunch; another, a gathering of family for a weekend feast; a last piece of key lime pie from a favorite restaurant,” he said.
As a teacher and director of student life in Augusta, Georgia, Ezra shared his mother’s life and death with his middle school students, who overwhelmed him with support, rushing to him at basketball games, touching hands, sharing wide-eyed sorrow and speaking the simple words, “I’m sorry about your mama.”
“I hope they saw transparency,” Ezra says. “I meant to be transparent.”
Ezra found comfort in the grief. He was both teaching and learning new lessons – lessons about sensitivity, consciousness and acknowledgment of the burdens each of us carry.
“When we do not realize that a person carries tragedies with them, we are at best insensitive – and often cruel – in our expectations,” Ezra said. “We are not meant to separate our lives into boxes – this one for love, this one for want, this one for reason, this one for faith – but to live completely, bringing our full power and experience to bear on the problems of our time.”
When Ezra embarked on his two-week Colorado backpacking trip last month, we knew he would arrive ready and willing to impart these hard-earned lessons about compassion. And he did.
But Ezra also completed the course with newfound faith in his own abilities.
“I’m not sure anything will ever be hard again after the growth I enjoyed, the fears I faced and mountains I climbed. I cried a lot of tears but kept moving forward. I don’t think I vanquished the fears, but I learned to operate while experiencing the fears,” Ezra said. “I am grateful – more than grateful – for the opportunity and experience.”
Here at Outward Bound, we are proud to call Ezra one of our own. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in his journey. And we have little doubt he will go on to conquer many more mountains – wherever or whatever they may be.