For the first time ever landing in Mexico felt like arriving in the States. Perhaps it was the familiar trappings of modernity, or maybe that Spanish was once again the second language (not surprising for the Cancun airport). Either way, what once would have felt like an expedition to the unknown now felt like home. This was the doing of the Island of Colored Glass. Read more
Something has been gnawing at me for awhile, a series of effervescent whisps trying to coalesce into a solid coherent thought. It’s a thread that runs through much of my writing that has needed to be teased out and captured. With luck this post will arrive at that thread pulled out and laid bare. At worst, this will be a failed experiment in sober writing. I ignore Clemens’s advice at my own peril…
As you may know I am to sail around the world. (Some would say solo, but then they have never met my dogs, so I’ll be in good company) Millions of people safely sail every day (according to a statistic I just made up). You are more likely to get killed by a shark while surfing that you are to die while sailing (again, a made-up stat) and thanks to highly-repetitive Shark Weeks we all know that those are incredibly rare events. Motor vehicles are a much larger threat to your existential well-being, yet we ride in them all the time!
So, statistics say that sailing is safe. Yet, what if this is the problem?
We have bubble-wrapped society. That’s a given. You have to be either very stupid or very unlucky to die in a freak accident during the normal course of the day. (There is that traffic thing of course, but even that is getting better) We don’t notice much of this protection – shatter-proof glass, regulations around safety lighting, fire inspections that prevent fires (Did you know that most fire department responses to fire alarms are for false alarms? These guys are just itching for a toddler with matches. Except, now we have safety matches…), FDA regulations, health inspections, annual physicals, IRA’s, 401(k)’s, pet insurance, different sized nozzles so we don’t get diesel, TSA, calories counts, and tobacco warnings to name a few. All of these are well and good.
A bubble-wrapped society is not a bad thing, it can just get stifling at times. Fortunately, we always have the wild we can escape into! You know, one of our fine national parks with elaborately-engineered trails (good article in the Southwest magazine this month about trail engineering), safety signs, fire safety levels, pre-built look-out vistas, maps, rangers, convenience stores, dining, and even a gift shop. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing – people raised in the foam peanuts tend to do silly things when taken out of their packaging. Raise the increased level of stupid by the millions of visitors and I can see why these precautions are taken for the protection of the park and animals as much as the tourists. I’m a huge fan of the park system, not knocking it at all. And, to be fair, there is an increased level of freedom and self-reliance. A hospital now is probably hours away instead of minutes.
Think about that for a second. We go out, maybe do a few days of hiking and camping to “get away from it all”, knowing full well that if things go tits up we can be whisked away by a helicopter to an ED with treatments that border on magic. It’s roughing it, with a safety net.
At this point you may be rolling your eyes, thinking “geez, does he want to go somewhere where he could die of dysentery because he has no access back to society? Grow up already!” First, yes, that’s exactly what I want, and second, no, I refuse to do that. Before you judge me too harshly though, let me share a story about my last visit to REI. I was looking to replace my National Geographic Atlas of North America. It’s my steady road trip companion for this particular continent (it’s rather useless in India) and I had given away my previous copy.
I couldn’t find one so I asked a clerk. He was confused why I would want a paper atlas instead of Google and GPS. “Well,” I told him, “if you do your trip right you get to places where there is no service.”
His eyes gleamed! I thought he understood the allure of the wild. Turns out, he had a “fix” for that “problem” – simply load my destination while I had service and then the GPS would work without cell towers.
There is so much wrong with that. First, I knew that already. Second, why in the world would I plan details for a place I’ve never even been to before? Third, what about all of the cool stuff I hadn’t thought about and now couldn’t find? Fourth, and most important, where was the risk? Did he really expect me to obey my phone and watch a little screen that would safely guide me through untold potential just to arrive at a camp site?
I don’t blame him. At his core he’s a product of the bubble wrap. He thought that the goal was the successful execution of a pre-determined plan with as little hardship as possible. Efficiency, if you will. I do efficiency for work. There’s a reason they have to pay me for me to do it, because efficiency, while valuable, is boring. It’s monotonous. It’s repetitive. It focuses on the goal and mitigates the risks to achieving that goal. Efficiency is the enemy of adventure.
But sailing is safe. Or, more precisely, it can be incredibly safe. You can know the weather, anywhere in the world, in an instant. If the boat sinks water-triggered beacons automatically send out distress signals. Multiple redundancies in engines, solar, radios, and de-salinization prevent single-failure catastrophes. Radar lights up obstacles that you may hit. Easy-to-reach life jackets sit in wait. Big ugly orange life rafts auto-inflate and are pre-stocked. (Pro-tip: Stash rum on yours before setting off!). All of these are necessities to sail.
Except, a few hundred years ago, during the Golden Age of Sail, none of these existed! Now, we cannot do without them. We have bubble-wrapped the ocean.
I am not against safety. I am against obsessing over it. I am against spending more time and energy focused on managing the down side of risk than enjoying the up side. I am against letting danger and daring out of the cage we have built for them only once we have exhausted all known safety precautions. In our efforts to save the body we have smothered the soul, and the cracks through which we can breathe are growing smaller.
In our effort to control risk we have damn near killed adventure. We have certainly made it into a social pariah. Be safe! Go to school! Get a good job and work hard! Diversify your investments! Don’t climb without a rope! All of this advice is good, but it comes at a cost. That cost is that we miss out on the most intense moments of life, those moments when everything is on the line and our senses are heightened. When we are put back into our place by forces beyond our control. Where we find freedom in our insignificance, and a shot at greatness through our daring.
In order to really live there are times when you must put yourself in situations where you may not make it out alive. Humans need risk to live as much as we need any other emotional stimulus. The question is, how to get into those situations and then get back out again?
The answer, simply, is skills. At the end of the day the best piece of safety equipment is you. Do you have the skills, technical and emotional, to handle peril? This is not a game of Russian Roulette I am talking about here, one of pure randomness. No, this is a game in which you dictate the odds. You are your safety net. Want to free climb? Great. Hone your skills and then climb within them. Want to BASE jump in a wing suit? Great. Learn to sky dive well. Then learn to wing suit. Then BASE jump. Then combine them all together. Proficiency creates safety not by avoiding risk, but by dancing with it.
So, the sailboat. It will be a minimalist boat with only the safety gear dictated by law. Yet, I intend to sail into challenging waters, yet do so while mitigating the risk. My hope is that this will pop some of the bubble wrap. Instead of smothering layers of artificial safety, skill and competence will be the guard rails. Of course, this path is slower. Harder. It requires more dedication. It requires self improvement. But, at the end, the result is freedom and adventure, and that is something bubble wrap can never deliver.
Ah, Independence Day has passed us again. Beer, bar-b-que, pools. Maybe the occasional history lesson. For the especially educated, perhaps a reading of the Declarion that started the whole thing. Some of us take a few moments to think about those that aren’t here anymore, whose loss keeps the day going. Others save that for Memorial Day. Still others, it’s family and friends. More power to all of that. After all, it’s all about freedom.
Normally, I’d fall in to one of those categories. This year though feels different. This year, I’ve been pondering the choices that come with freedom. Freedom of choice of course does not mean freedom from the consequences of those choices. Really though, that’s a good thing. After all, if choices didn’t result in consequences, what’s the point of making choices in the first place?
This year, I’m thinking about the choices that I’ve made. The travel from work. Time away from family and friends. Especially the nieces and nephews. Haunting thoughts surrounding those. Will they remember me? Will I play an important part in their life or just the odd and occasional interruption? Time passes so fast with kids that if you blink you miss something critical. A “first” something. And while Facebook is a great way to keep in touch, it is even better and making you just want to be there.
Some things though are timeless. The flow of the river, the taste of good Tex Mex, the smell of a brisket. And the company of close friends. There’s a an interesting timelessness to close friends that you get with no one else. If you don’t see your family for a year, a lot of things happen. They grow up, grow old, or pass on.
There is so much I miss about home. The sights, sounds, people, smells, the quiet relaxation, the piercings of a billion stars at night. The soft blow of the breeze on my deck. The chill of the Comal, the peace of Coton Seed, the relaxed happiness of wherever my brother calls home. The feel of the pine table in my mom’s house I sanded smooth so many years ago. There are patterns deep in my brain that are activated by these things. It’s the allure of home, the pull of the familiar.
“Home” is such a bizarre concept. Is it where you get your mail? Where you grew up? Where you go after work? Where your family is? Where you keep your friends? I think that all of these play into it, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that, surprisingly, I am not a man with no home. I have felt that way a lot lately, for the past several years. No, the conclusion is, I am a man of many homes
I realized this on 290 out of Houston as I crossed into the early stages of Central Texas. The feeling was palpable. I was home. But which one? I was going to hang with my brother, and then spend the night at my mom’s a few nights later before heading on to the home I technically own but don’t live in.
Friends and family. That’s home. Maybe combined with a dash of history and nostalgia. It’s an area, a person, a place from days past. For me, it’s Central Texas, the cab of my truck, anywhere in the Caribbean, the Guard Shack, my house or one of my family’s. It’s the night sky clear and black. It’s just below crystal waves and coral.
So why leave? Part of this Independence break has been enjoying the freedom to come back home and then ponder why I’ve used my freedom to leave in the first place. Ultimately, the road beckons. It always will. My mistress is the horizon and I cannot ignore her call. This has made me so appreciate those friends who have timelessness. Who I can see once a year or less, yet the bond is somehow stronger. I’ve been long blessed with better friends than I deserve. They have chosen to tolerate my nomadic existence and make me feel like I am coming home every time I hit that San Antonio city limit sign.
I miss life and people here with a startling intensity. I feel a quiet desperation to extend drinking night at the Saucer just another round because I recognize those moment are fleetingly precious, like gold flakes slipping through a panner’s hands to be lost forever downstream. How can you savor those moments when they go so quick? How do you act normal when it feels that you alone appreciate how rare they are?
So why leave? Purpose maybe? Certainly not career. I’d trade my career in a heartbeat for home. But propose. The work is important, and it impacts a lot of people. But, none of them are friends and family so the tension remains.
This is a bit more rambling than my usual posting. I have no great insight, only a longing feeling to never leave this place combined with an incessant drive to do just that. This dichotomy makes me both appreciate and miss the friends and family that weather the coming and going. They somehow make me feel important, yet not guilty. Appreciated and loved, but not missed, at least not in a bad way.
I’ll close with this. We have incredible freedoms. The likes of which has never before been seen on this planet. I think it’s ok if you don’t know what to do with it. Try to figure it out, and enjoy the moment. That’s my strategy, what’s yours? And with that, I’m off to Haufbrau for a few more sacred moments with people that matter.
We call it “Memorial Day”. It’s a day to remember. Yet, there is so much we forget. It’s not our fault – we are wired to the here and now (or, as is the most recent trend, the future that never arrives). More that forget, there is so much we don’t, and will never, know.
I found this grave a few months ago. There’s an old cemetery around the corner from me. It’s called “Oakland Cemetery” and it was founded before 1850. (Good luck getting a plot there – ot’s closed to new residents). It’s now a beautiful city park, but think, this cemetery was started while slavery was still applauded. The history it has seen is astounding. Not only is that history astounding, but it also accumulated here.
Part of the cemetery is set aside for fallen Confederate soldiers. These soldiers died throughout the war. Atlanta was a major medical center for the Confederacy. If you were wounded and needed more extensive treatment you came here to either recover or die.
While uniformly laid out in nice neat military precision the stones themselves vary greatly. Imagine the difficulty of figuring out the names, birthdays, ranks, and units of all of these soldiers. Without modern communications timely identification was not possible, yet without modern embalming timeliness was essential. As such, these men were buried with what information was available.
The result is headstones like this. No name, no age, no home. Only a very simple “unknown”. While we are told the dash is where life happens, this man did not even have a dash.
I wonder how his death impacted his family. They probably received word that there had been a great battle. Perhaps they knew that he was part of it. Or maybe they only knew he was in that direction. Mail was likely unreliable then. After reading the paper they waited. And waited. Days turned to weeks, then months. He hadn’t written. Was he alive? Perhaps they had rationed paper again. Maybe the Union cut the mail lines. Word would come.
But it didn’t. At some point fear grew, then dread. Dread, combatted by an ever-weakening hope, became doubtful, reluctant understanding. He was gone. He would never know the future, nor the future him.
And so, he is forgotten. A nameless headstone slowly crumbling in a rolling field. Gone and forgotten. A hero of a nation failed.
I wonder what it must have been like, to lie there bleeding for a country with an uncertain future. Regardless of how we now view that nation – one built both on the blood of slaves and the sweat of honest labor – I wonder how this man saw his life, his fight, and ultimately, his sacrifice. We will never know.
She was crying when I answered the phone. I was expecting the typical “Happy Thanksgiving!” call. The kind of call you make when you want to keep in touch over the distance. But no, she was crying. It was the first Thanksgiving since the loss of a family member, and there is something about the holidays that bring fresh loss screaming like wind-whipped salt on road rash – unstoppable and unbearable.
What is it about the holidays, this one in particular, that bring pain where there once was thanks? I had been pondering this idea for a day or so, thinking about how much harder this departure is than others, and that the reluctance to leave is not for lack of excitement about the destination but rather the depth of friends and family I am leaving behind.
What I’m learning is that thanks without pain is shallow. Consider the things you re thankful for. A typical list will read something like this:
- A house
- A job
- A car
- The Spurs
The problem though is that the list is not prioritized. Food is great, and necessary, but there is always more. I move from house to house (granted, rarely my own) and some of my happiest memories are leaving jobs after accomplishing what I set out to do. I won’t mourn my truck. Much. And the Spurs will always have another season. The only thing that can’t be replaced are relationships. They are all that matters.
This is hardly groundbreaking. We all know this. But when counting blessings, if your list is longer than the people in your life, it’s too long. If you are thankful for your family and your job in the same breath we are talking about two very different levels of thanks.
That’s where the pain comes in. It filters out what is truly important from the mundane. So, the very reason that it is so hard to leave, and the very reason my friend hurt so bad, is because we both have so much to be thankful for. Pain is the other side of gratitude, the other side of what really matters. Thank less, but thank more deeply.
The idea then is to love so intensely that it hurts as much as possible when we lose someone. Even if that is a dog. My dog, Moko, is the most consistent, stable relationship I have. For those of you that haven’t met him, he’s as sweet and gentle that a dog could be. (He’s also a big chicken, but that’s another story) I wrote the end of the book title “He Found Me At the Pound” I want to somehow write about what I have learned from my time with him. I will close this post with the closing of the book. I hope it means as much for you to read as it did me to write. Enjoy, and have a very happy, meaningful Thanksgiving.
The final chapter is both the hardest and easiest to write, both because I already know how the story will end. Maybe not the specifics, but certainly the important points. Fate packages curse with every blessing, and the tension between the two is what determines something’s worth. Dogs are what we make of them. We get to dictate the amount of blessing and, by doing so, elevate the pain of the curse.
The pact we make with them is simple. They forgive. Constantly. They love unconditionally. They live in the moment always. They listen to us, hurt with us, and are strong for us. In their own way, they speak back to us if we listen. In return, we escort them through this life until, but cold arithmetic, they are ready to depart from it decades before us. In exchange for their loyalty we give them a lifetime free of pain and fear, to the best of our abilities. When they leave us the bill on that pain must be paid.
One day Moko will slow. The laser will garner but a raised eyebrow and, perhaps, a sluggish wag of the tail. His ball will rest by his head, seldom bounced, never again chased. Slow ache, which he doubtless will try to hide, will settle on his hips. His long years of caring for me will be at an end, and my duty as his escort will be called upon.
The pact we made was to grant him a life of ease and love, free from suffering, but that cannot be done forever. So, it will be my turn to hide my pain from him. I will give him the best last day possible. We’ll ride in the truck, eat like bachelors, go find a quiet lake. He’ll spend hours on the floor with as much of his 100 pounds as he can fit in my lap. I’ll reminisce and, like a dog, he will simply enjoy the moment.
Finally, the time will come. He will feel little and anticipate nothing, graced by the calm of ignorance. We will walk in together. He’ll lie down, head in my lap. The vet will put in the port and flush it with saline. With but moments left I will thank him for loving me. I’ll nod, and he will nod off, dreaming what I hope is a happy dream of younger days. With a final nod the last vial, pink and bright, will begin pushing into his veins, and in my head I will begin pushing him off into the void like a Viking king of old, my duty as his escort complete at last.
I will walk out alone.
The grief will seek to overwhelm and, for a night, it will likely have the upper hand. Several stiff drinks, a sleeping pill or two, and, maybe, even a tear. But it won’t win, because of what Moko taught me. No matter how much it sucks right now there’s always something good around the corner. As John Lennon would say, “all you need is love”, and I know exactly where to find that.
The next morning I will wake up, still sad and broken, but I will move. I will go down to the animal shelter and walk along the loud rows of kennels, looking for another dog that is scared and desperate enough to make the pact with me. Being human, I will naturally be anticipating the years together. Years to rehabilitate them from their past, years to build a deep bond of friendship, years before, once again, I will be right back here doing it all over again. Being dog, this new canine will simply enjoy the moment.
I, like many, am an addict with no intention of recovery. Like a junkie, sober and shaking, looking for the next fix, I will shuffle down the aisles, pierced by both pain and anticipation. With luck, there is a dog there looking as well, and with luck, he will find me at the pound.
Sometimes the pain of a particular leaving hurts more than others. More deeply. It’s to be expected in a life built more on “goodbyes” than “see you tomorrow”. Tonight though, on the eve of my departure, I feel more poignantly the cost of the life I’ve chosen.
First, the cost. My “tribe”, misfit hooligans though they may be, exists in San Antonio. These people, my tribe as I think of them, mean the world to me. Their successes excite me more my own. Their hurts are my own. This clash of humans, bound by some mysterious need, melts together like a gumbo, unreplaceable and exquisitely precious. The ingredients – striver, ex-lover, nomad, the ever-faithful, lifelong companion, and fellow creator – all combine into a rich, textured, nuanced idea of what I understand home to be. And, leaving that, I miss it already.
The leaving is worth the cost, of course. Otherwise I would not be doing it. Intellectually I know that this move is a positive step. I need to prove my theories conclusively in an inhospitable environment. The net step of transforming hospitals is in Atlanta. It fits in with my life plan. It is good.
Yet, I am profoundly sad.
The reason, I think, is an acute emphasis on living in the moment. This is a good thing I think, yet, when it is time to leave, it kind of sucks. Why? Because part of living in the moment involves ignoring the future, no matter how bright it might be. It is an attempt to feel deeply the current reality. And, nights like this, when those closest to you come out to bid you farewell, you feel it deeply. But it’s a positive thing, not a negative.
So, to those who came out to the Saucer tonight, please please know that I love each and every one you immensely. I already miss you, I cherish the time we’ve spent together, and I can’t wait until we meet again. Until then though, when Monday comes, I am going to get very excited about this new opportunity.
And that’s living in the moment. It’s not just about experiencing the highs with no thought to the fall. It is about experiencing each moment as intensely as possible. Good or bad. Up or down. The two extremes are not in opposition, but rather in concert.
Happiness in the future does not cheapen the pain of the past. Nor does current reluctance to let go preclude success in the future. Yet, the temptation is to live in the moment only when that moment is pleasant, and live in the future or past when the present is uncomfortable. This is not an honest nor healthy way to live as it overemphasizes the highs yet minimizes the time necessary to achieve them.
So, tonight, I embrace the moment. I feel the full weight of a concrete price without feeling the future promise of an unseen benefit. This is a positive thing though because if forces honesty. So, to those of you who were there tonight, and a good many more, here is my truth towards you:
I love you all, and always will. And that is not a momentary thought.
So the story tonight seems to be about tragedy in Paris. Over 100 killed in the name of righteous zeal. Frankly, this is not a tragedy. When two trains collide it’s a tragedy. When a tsunami wipes out a coastline, it’s a tragedy. When a child drowns in a pool, it’s a tragedy. This is not that. This, friends, is evil.
The common theme is that it is the act of a few violent extremists and not representative of an entire religion. This is not all Muslims. To say so would be horribly offensive and insensitive! While I won’t say that, I will go much much further. Tonight I intend to throw everyone under the bus, and then to crawl under with you.The problem here is not that the Koran condones violence. It does, but that’s not the problem. While many will take perverted comfort in the idea that the Koran does indeed condone violence, they need to also realize that the Bible does as well. Fortunately, though, the content of these books is not the problem, so we can move on from that sticking point.
The problem is that it is ok to see another group as “them” and use their denigration to elevate “us”. Yes, this is a religious problem, but it is not confined to religion. Yes, many Muslims see the world as Muslim and non-Muslim, and use that difference to justify evil things. But so do Christians. And Americans. And Jews. And blacks. And Europeans. And Chinese. The list goes on. Sometimes it seems that our greatest unifying feature is our irresistible tendency to divide.
So what is the way forward? How do we stop terrorism? That’s a much bigger question than I can answer. What I do know though is that I share a very unnerving characteristic with them. I am all to often willing to let the label I place on someone supersede their own humanity. That, I think, is what leads to the events in Paris. So while a previous attack led to the cry “I am Charlie”, this attack leads me to uncomfortably realize that I am jihad. Yes, today we stand with Paris, but how long ago was it that we were enjoying Freedom Fries as a snub to them?
This is not about moral equivalency, nor is it about making the event our fault. The first is foolish and the second narcissistic. This is about recognizing that the same hate that spawned bombs and bullets rests within me as well. It rests within all of us.
I don’t know the path, but in think the next step is simple – find a way to love someone as different as you as possible. Find a member of the group that most repulsed you and find a way to display love, however small the action.
I’ll close reflecting on the story of the Christmas football game in World War 1 between the opposing sides. The sadness of the game is that the next day they went back to trying to kill the ones they had just found a way to connect with. What if we could find a way to keep the game going? What if, in light of this, we could fight the pull of the trenches and see the other side as us? Whether they be homeless or a 1 Percenter, black or white, religious of any sort or not at all, what if we could see past the labels and just see people?
It’s a long shot, but I’m optimistic. And until we reach that point, long live Paris.
Tonight I have no visual of what I want to convey. No pithy image summarizing a long writ expounding a specific insight. No, tonight I am image-less.
i thought about using a recycled image of the flag draped on barbed wire that I found in Arkansas, but it has been claimed already by Memorial Day. Perhaps a quintessential image of the flag at a parade, or perhaps, a kid waving a flag while atop his dad’s shoulders. There are a ton of cliche images that could be used, which is why none of them should be used. For those of you that bother to read, I aim of be more than cliche. So, here are my thoughts on today.
239 years ago a bunch of scrappy colonialist said “fuck you!” To Mother England. Unfortunately, this fact is now challenged. Some wish to make it seem that most Americans wanted nothing to do with the Revolution. That they simply wanted to get along in peace. “No heroes here!” they claim, as we all know the numerous shortcomings of our nation. The Founding Fathers raped slaves. The Confederacy doubled down on owning slaves. Today virtual slavery is maintained through economics and the police state. Therefore, because America has not, and does not, deliver complete freedom, celebrating her anniversary is stupid.
This is, of course, nonsense. I know that a lot of institutions in our country are racist. As much as it sucks to be a black American in corporate America, it sucks a lot worse to be in the NICU at an LSU hospital. (To the uneducated it would seem they try to kill you based on race!) There are of course more, but that’s not the point. At least, not for today.
Today sucks. Not as bad as yesterday, granted, or the day before, but it suck. We do not have today the union that we want. We didn’t decide that the LGBT community should be able to marry. Make no mistake, and take no credit, the Supreme Court did.
We are a country that struggles to give even each other liberty. Independence. Freedom. Think about that. We have a hard time letting other people do what we disagree with. Be it drugs, gay sex, straight sex, polygamy, guns, expression, or, hell, toplessness, we have a really hard time not trying to use to government to dictate our prejudices. We have work to do.
Fortunately, this isn’t about any of that. This is about us, perfected
This is a celebration, not of our past, but the future that we are building. It is a celebration of not our true selves, but our ideal. It is not about papering over our past and current failures, but reminding us of where we are supposed to be going. This, today, is a celebration of what we, individually, are doing to better protect, better further, and to better employ, our freedom. We are the authors of the meaning of today. Write well.
They call it the Grand Canyon, and it is certaily befitting of that name. The bulk of the West drains through it. It was the last place unexplored in the lower 48. It has stood as both barrier to progress and defender of the deep past. She lies, unimaginatively vast, yawning her expanse to those that trespass upon her rim. Ancient and irregardless of our trivial trial and exploits, our trite failures and pety victories. Stoic yet frail, at worst we can change her, at best we can change ourselves.
Equalling, or perhaps, surpassing, the unfathomable size is her sublime delicacy. Countless side canyons, oasis in the desert landscape, lie waiting for the patient and determined to discover. Clear water cascading over slick rock lends a gentle touch to the colossal chasm. Soft light tumbles down every evening. One of the best lines ever written, the opening sentence to The Emerald Mile, describes this phenomenon:
“On any given evening in summer, but most notably in late June, there comes a moment just after the sun has disappeared behind the rimrock, and just before the darkness has tumbled down the walls, when the bottom of the Grand Canyon gives itself over to a moment of muted grace that feels something like an act of atonement for the sins of the world.” – Kevin Fedarko
Looking out upon her from the rim I was once again thankfully put into my proper place. The canyon is old, 6 million years, yet young compared to the age of her rock. Each layer represents a mind-boggling expanse of history. The utmost layer, older than the dinosaurs. At the bottom, rock four times older than life itself.
The rim trail, a little over a mile in length, attempts to put this into perspective. Walk along the canyon rim, gaze at her wonders, and assume each huge step you take is a million years. Walk for over a mile and touch the stone formed at each ere in you journey. The oldest, half the age of the earth, you can see if you can glimpse the bottom. Continue walking. The rock changes, but not much else. 75% through and you can see where life began. Walk further, and sense how much time it took to create complex life. Then the dinosaurs. The the mammals.
At long last you will come to human history. It lasts all of 2 inches. After 1.2 miles of walking all of humanity counts for 2 inches. Just 2 inches. On this scale your life counts for microns, if that.
We are but droplets in a stream cascading over antiquity. The things that we would kill for, or die for, will be forgotten in the blink of a geological eye. There are many many lessons to be taken from this. Here is mine:
Live your life without abandon. Soon, you will die, and the only people that give a damn will soon follow. The canyon does not concern herself with the action of droplets. So stop worrying. Your failures, along with your successes, will be forgotten in short order, meaning, failure does not matter.
So, be who you want to be. Live the life you want. Soon enough we all splash into the pool at the bottom. Until then, enjoy the ride.