“Reasons why women young and old should climb mountains”
is the title of a poem by Gerda Lerner which unfortunately cannot be released (yet) due to copyright reasons. She talks about the indifference of the stones, and how “surefootedness” is the balance between that which is possible and that which might have been, and how rocks “do not pretend to false kindness.”
Today I am in the area where as a child Gerda loved coming with her family on holidays, and later with her own family, going for long hikes and spending many hours talking with her sister Nora (whom I will be filming tomorrow). This afternoon, as I was sitting above 2000m sea level, stunned by the power, majesty and silence of the surrounding mountains. I was reflecting on her homeland, the (darker) history of this country, her own upbringing in Vienna during the 1930s. Gerda loved these mountains and I think she must have felt more at home here between all the rock-formations than when she visited her old hometown Vienna, giving book tours and lectures in her later years. These mountains never hated her because she happened to be Jewish, and they welcomed her back without guilt, without awkwardness, with no high awards given as retributions for what had happened in the past. They embraced her as a child, as a refugee, a mother, later as the celebrated academic, and foremost, as the lover of the land that was eternally present with beauty and strength.
In the mountains there is no “otherness” – the different surfaces, shades, materials of the rocks, the mosses and the plants pull together a stunning painting of moving lights and colours, transforming moment to moment, forever. Nothing needs to be analysed and talked about or reflected on. Beauty speaks for itself. There is no “other” mountain, no “other” rock here.
Gerda must have found deep refuge when she entered the mountain world. She must have felt “embraced” in similar ways, when for the first time in her life she met African Americans in the Bronx, having just landed in America as a Jewish refugee from Austria. She felt immediately at home, they all knew the language of “outsider,” and so like the rocks and the plants they were together in their otherness*, in the humanity and eternity that unites.
* Gerda Lerner taught many seminars on “otherness,” with many exercises that showed people how “otherness” is being created within us, and how to solve prejudices of racism, class and gender within oneself.