May 25, 2014
My husband, Bill, and I recently spent a couple of weeks hiking in remote areas of southern Utah, a starkly beautiful, nearly silent ancient desert landscape almost entirely off the grid. The magnitude of the natural forces that continually shape and carve the multi-colored sandstone and slickrock landscape is hard to comprehend, the sheer power of wind, water, erosion and time.
On one hike we stood under a 165 million year old massive sandstone natural bridge. Unspeakably and profoundly small in comparison, we were awestruck at just how short a time we’re here in this life, that we’re just guests passing through.
After a few days of acclimating to the altitude, sleeping on the ground, convincing ourselves that the backpacking food was really delicious and being generally grimy, we set out on what would be a particularly fabulous day. The sky was a patchwork of cerulean blue and low-lying white billowy clouds, and the temperature was mild with a light breeze to keep us cool.
It was a long hike, about 11 miles, and we were in no hurry. The trail was both challenging and comfortable, included sand and dirt, required climbing up, down and around big boulders, through a short slot canyon and across fields of fragrant sage brush amid the explosion of desert wildflowers at the peak of the springtime bloom; yellow, pink, white, purple, red and orange. Really a perfect day and we were relishing it.
It was our last day before going back to town to load up on groceries, check in with our families and head out into the next remote area. Towards the end of that perfect day I had a peculiar feeling that the next day we would get some bad news. It came out of nowhere. And when I told Bill about it, he rolled his eyes. It was a fleeting thought, and I let pass as quickly as it came.
While traveling the next morning, we turned on our phones and they both lit up with plenty of voice and text messages, not so unusual for being away for a week. But the messages were indeed bad news, the kind of news that changed our bliss to sadness in a moment. It brought us back to the true nature of our lives, the true nature of all of our lives.
Everything changes. Life is difficult for everyone. And things happen because other things happen. It’s not personal, it just happens. And it’s really true that without experiencing sorrow, we cannot understand joy, or without the light, there’d be no dark, and pleasure and pain rub up against each other constantly. Life includes everything.
I recently heard a story about two elderly women living their last days in assisted living facilities. Both had lost their ability to speak with the exception of three words. One woman had two words, and the other had one. The words were temporarily, unexpectedly and precious. What a great description of our trip and our lives. What if we choose to live our lives knowing how temporarily and unexpectedly precious this life truly is? I think it could change everything.
Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah