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Hills and Mountains

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I was in the 9th grade at 13 when I was looking at the ceremony for my Bas Mitzvah, literally “Daughter of the Covenant,” when I would chant the portion of scriptural commentary to the five books of Moses consistent with my birthday, and speak all the Rabbi would let me, and collect some gifts.

My prowess with Hebrew was well known.

I pretty much knew the whole liturgy already and sang along and drowned out the officiants and choir as much as I could. Some older men sang pretty loud, but I generally drowned them out, too.

So there was a record attendance in February for a Friday night service when I was the “star.” Yes, star. Everybody wanted to be at this one, because I was already known as a “ham.”

Most kids had to be dragged or threatened to learn this stuff. But I had heard my own father of blessed memory say to a prominent member of the congregation, “You want to come hear her. A real performer, and she sings with spirit — a true believer.”  Still a “true believer” in my own way, I suppose.

My father was choir director and the choir pulled out all their lushest music, although my father refused to slip in a Bach fugue — I told him nobody but us would recognize it, but he insisted that was where the line was drawn.

Kayla, the strongest of his soprano soloists, wanted to do a Psalm. I had no doubt what I wanted. Psalm 121, to which she agreed — but I could have it in English, not the Hebrew I loved.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains:
from whence shall my help come?
My help cometh from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.”

I — token Jew — was a poor social fit at my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) prep school. Rolling my eyes heavenward was as natural as breathing deeply and feeling peace whenever I saw mountains.

Branches of my family lived within view of hills, but my father had a condescending attitude toward people who had chosen to live there. It was better to live in cities where lots of Jews were.

My Grandmother-Of-Blessed-Memory had taken comfort viewing the hills near the village of Linke in the Ukraine when she shepherded around her little flock of geese, so obviously Jews lived near hills before, but my Father-Of-Blessed-Memory, I knew by then, was not someone to be confronted if such were avoidable.

I relished my family’s few drives to the Berkshire Hill of western Massachusetts. I liked mountains, hills, bumps, even piles of rocks. Such places were a little closer than the open stretches to the God who “kept” me and that was a good thing.

In my (American) postgraduate medical education, I lived in places like Fargo, North Dakota, and later, Wichita, Kansas, which are known for extreme flatness. Sometimes, when I felt really stressed, I looked around me and thought “Oh my God, no hills to look up at — I am in some kind of spiritual trouble.”

For now, I must simply say that, although extreme flatness was absolutely not a criterion, I was not meant to live terribly long in either place.

One of the more pleasant — if perhaps a tad eccentric — psychiatrists I have ever known worked in Northern California not far from Mount Shasta, and regularly spent part of his year in India near a sacred mountain — the name of which escapes me completely.

He was not East Indian in origin. He looked like a somewhat diminutive representative of the prevailing “white bread and mayonnaise” mainstream (Christian) American culture – A WASP.  He simply told me he felt comfortable near mountains.

He also told me he had a feeling that I was a red-headed goddess with a scimitar (sword of sorts) who cut people off from addictive and otherwise deleterious drugs.  He told me there was a lot of mythology associated with Mount Shasta, but never expounded on the details.

I remember driving around the base of that mountain with my husband and seeing that an inordinate amount of psychics and fortune tellers officed in the village also called Mt. Shasta at the mountain’s base.

Some of the folklore of Mount Shasta has been collected since.

Although it had been known for quite a long time that the Native Americans had venerated the mountain as being of particular importance, many people told stories of the peace-loving Lemurians, who had last been seen around the base of the mountains in the 1930’s or so and were believed to live in a colony within the mountain.

Physical descriptions of these folks bear a suspicious resemblance to Leonard Nimoy in the fourth Star Trek movie where he traveled through time to San Francisco of the 1960’s and used a headband to cover his pointy ears.

I remember being told to watch for the cylindrical, lenticular clouds at the top of the mountain, which were believed by many to camouflage the UFOs landings at the top of the mountain.

Although I am no candidate for a TV weather girl position, I do know such clouds are frequently sighted at the top of mountains where winds reach high velocity.

Maybe a psychiatrist would be the only person to talk about his comfort near mountains as if it were something both common and normal.

Once, in a region where no mountains were visible, I did have a patient who had grown up near a mountain and missed such a view. I told her to buy a poster of a mountain and hang it on the wall by her bed and as far as I knew, that fixed the problem.

The spiritual nature of mountains is not exactly the kind of subject people research excitedly and write abstracts about in the National Library of Medicine database.  Those delightful “scientific” psychologists who study things such as perception have noticed a mountain seems higher while you are climbing it, which makes perfect sense.

It is interesting to wonder when a “hill” becomes a “mountain,” because various versions in English of Psalm 121 use one or the other term. In English, a “mountain” is impressive, even monumental, while a “hill” is more warm and friendly.

After all, many of us have gone walking or hiking in the hills while (relatively) few people I know claim to have gone “mountain climbing.”  There is a British (Welsh) story about a community that mounted an amazing effort to have a hill reclassified as a mountain.

It was even made into the obligatory movie. I am sure I saw it because I have a visual memory of folks bringing wheelbarrows full of earth to the top of the (then) hill and leaving them up there. The warmth and general importance of hills are nowhere demonstrated better than in “The Sound of Music.” Not that many classic musicals have their own Facebook page. We all know by now that Julie Andrews in her pinafore, in the movie, whipped around like a whirling dervish while informing us joyously that:

“The hills are alive.  With the sound of music.”
Her hills were the Swiss Alps – Mountains.

By the end of the play or movie, we also learn that having made a friend of the hills is a very good thing, indeed. They are just foreboding enough to be some sort of a barrier to Nazis, although they are a wonderful pathway to safety for happy and wonderful music-loving Von Trapps.

Clearly, after over 50 years, Rodgers and Hammerstein still rule. But wait. There’s more. Rodgers and Hammerstein also wrote “Climb Every Mountain,” and put it in the very same show! It is sung by the abbess at the end of the first Act of The Sound of Music. Here is a YouTube version.

And the lyrics:

If ever there has been a song that makes you want to yell and scream and cry real tears and jump up and down, this is it. It was a longer time coming than you might guess.

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for that song and another called “There’s a Hill Beyond a Hill.” Now I don’t have the music for it and the 1932 show “There’s Music in the Air” (which Hammerstein wrote with Jerome Kern) does not seem to have a Facebook page. But clearly the idea for a hill and/or mountain song started way back then.

Maybe Oscar grew up around hills and mountains or maybe he – also a Jew, was (richly) exposed to the 121st Psalm. Great ideas, like hills and mountains, are rich metaphors and seem to be destined to bring deep emotional payoffs to an audience. Whatever — but the progression is certain.  We all take to the hills.

And those of us who are trying to achieve big really do need to “climb every Mountain.”  Oscar Hammerstein really did have to “Climb Every Mountain” to get where he was going.  And he earned his place in history.

Author’s Bio:

Estelle Toby Goldstein, MD is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in San Diego, CA.

Practicing Medicine Since 1981

In her medical career, she has studied in Europe and Canada as well as the USA. She has attended specialty training beyond medical school in the fields of general surgery, neurology and neurosurgery and psychiatry (specializing in psychopharmacology).

Experienced In Many Situations

She has worked in a variety of positions, including:

Fireman/EMT
Medical school professor
General and Orthopedic surgeon
Brain surgeon
Army Medical Corps psychiatrist
Prison psychiatrist
Community Mental Health Center staff
Consultant to a major transplant hospital
Drug researcher
“Whatever It Takes!”

She currently has her own indepenent clinic in San Diego where she is concentrating on what she calls Mind/Body medicine — or Integrative Medicine. Her practice is cash-only, doesn’t accept insurance or government payments, and she operates on the concierge, or “private doctor” practice model to give her patients the absolute best quality of care and the highest level of confidentiality.

Dr. Goldstein’s philosophy is “Whatever It Takes!” Her goal is to do everything possible to solve whatever problem she is presented. This includes seeing patients as quickly as possible — not making them wait weeks for an appointment. This includes making appointments days, nights, weekends or holidays. This includes making house-calls. And it includes using the best, most innovative treatments available — most of which are unknown to standard, mainstream doctors.

Her focus is on transitioning patients away from prescription drugs and onto natural substances. She is also a master practitioner of Emotional Freedom Technique, a powerful and dynamic form of energy psychology that usually brings quicker results than traditional psychotherapy.

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