Once upon a time, there was a family of monkeys. Most of the other monkeys lived in trees, but this family lived in a deep hole in the ground. The baby monkeys were always dirty. They looked at the monkeys in the trees wistfully, wishing they could have the fresh fruit from the tree tops. Instead, in the pit, food was scarce and they often found themselves eating whatever rotten fruit remained. The peelings of the fruit remained scattered throughout the pit, and the whole region was infested with bugs and filled with their filth.

The young monkeys knew things weren’t right here, but it was all they’d ever known, and climbing out of the pit was so hard. Even worse, they were regularly made to believe that life in the pit was all they deserved. There were too many baby monkeys, they were told. If there weren’t so many of them, THEN the adult monkeys could make a real home for them up above. If the baby monkeys just worked a little harder, tried a little more to clean the pit up (without the grown-up monkeys ever helping or teaching them how) THEN the pit would be as good as the trees. But the baby monkeys didn’t know how and the grown-up monkeys only talked about the what-ifs. The talk changed nothing.

Eventually, though, as the young monkeys grew older and saw how good life was for the monkeys living up in the trees, they decided life in the pit wasn’t for them after all. They each started to climb, a little at a time. They reached small ledges along the walls of the pit, gradually working their way higher and higher. They climbed at different rates, but called out to one another, helping each other as they could. Some monkey friends from the trees reached out and helped them each as well, but when it came to it, they had to each climb their own way out of the pit.

One by one, they each made it to the ground. They scattered, some to enjoy life at this new height, others to try to find a way into the trees from there. One little monkey lay panting on the ground, contemplating the trees, wanting desperately to join them. But it had taken so much strength just to get to the ground.

So she looked back at the pit. It was not a wistful look, not a nostalgic look, but simply a contemplative one. Sometimes she still believed that was where she was supposed to be, the only place she was fit for – that the trees were no place for the likes of her. But when she looked at how deep the bottom of the pit was, she was proud of how far she’d come.

Then she heard voices from above. “What are you doing down there?” “Why are you on the ground?” “That’s too low. That’s no fit place for a monkey.”

She glanced down into the pit again. Then she picked up a fallen piece of fruit nearby, for energy. It was so fresh! Freshly fallen, and so much better than the rotting fruit and slimy bugs of the pit! Nourished, she reached out and slowly, carefully, flexing muscles she’d never used in her life, started to pull herself up to the lowest branch of the nearest tree.

It wasn’t easy. She had never been in a tree before. All her climbing experience was based on scaling the lumpy walls of the disgusting pit. She was so proud of herself for reaching the ground! But the monkeys in the treetops weren’t. All they saw was that she was too far down still.

Some bark managed to work its way between her mangy fur and scratch at her. Her fingers and muscles ached from the effort. But finally, eventually, she made it to the lowest branch. She collapsed on it, exhausted.

“What are you doing?” the voices from above called again. “Why are you all the way down there? Don’t stop!”

“It’s so hard,” she called back, nearly a whisper. “Don’t you understand? I’ve climbed so far.”

“No, that’s not far, that’s still down at the ground! Monkeys aren’t made to be at the ground, they’re made to be in the treetops!”

“I know, but they’re just so far away.”

“Oh, don’t be silly! It’s easy to get up here! I’ve been doing it my whole life!”

“But I got scratched up.”

“That’s because your fur is separated. You should’ve groomed first. Why haven’t you groomed?”

But she didn’t know how. A tear rolled down her cheek as she looked back, toward the pit, wondering why it was so hard to go so far. The other monkeys seemed to think the treetops were so easy to reach! Maybe she really wasn’t made for the trees. Maybe she didn’t deserve them after all.

Then another voice, much closer, called out to her. “Please don’t worry, sister. They don’t understand. They’ve never been in the pit, and to them this is still too near ground, too near the mud and the filth. They don’t know how hard climbing is when you didn’t spend your whole life already doing it. But don’t worry, your muscles will grow and you’ll be able to climb higher.”

She smiled. And she rested where she needed to, passing the time by studying grooming techniques or contemplating the branches above and considering how to get to them. Other monkeys may already know these things, almost instinctively, but she didn’t. She had to learn.

Maybe the monkeys in the top branches couldn’t understand, but she was glad to have someone who knew that what looked like bottom to them, wasn’t the bottom at all. They just couldn’t know how far she had already come.