Every now and then something profound happens that makes you realize how fleeting life can be. Something reminds you how fragile your existence is and sharpens your awareness of the fact that no one is immune to the fatal flaw that is simply being human…
On an ordinary autumn morning, six family members were hiking along an easy trail in the central Colorado Rockies to bear witness to one of the state’s beautiful natural gems waiting for them at the end. It would truly be a breathtaking reward for such a brief mountain stroll. Except that this excursion would ultimately be anything but rewarding.
Carved into the side of towering 14,000 ft. Mount Princeton and surrounded by sheer rocky cliffs, evergreen trees and quivering golden aspen, the ice-cold waters of the AgnesVailleFalls tumble over the rocks thundering and crashing as they emerge from the mountain. Perhaps the recent rains or dramatic changes in temperature had caused the boulders to shift from their perches high above and the giant monoliths began sliding and falling to the observation area at the bottom of the falls… and onto the family watching below.
Of the six hikers, only a 13 year old girl survived. It is indeed moments like these that make us newly aware how quickly life as we know it can change. However, for me personally, this struck on a whole other level. You see, I did not know the family, but I did know the falls. I used to visit them frequently, hiking that very trail many times while living and working just a few miles down the road. It was a place I went to watch for wildlife, or to sit in quiet meditation and write.
I have stood where they stood—where they perished—and looked up in awe and wonder at this towering, rushing spectacle time and time again and marveled at its strength, endurance and majesty. I have climbed up high amidst the boulders to catch a better glimpse of a mountain goat and eaten my lunch surrounded by the rolling mist coming off the water when first it broke over thrusting rocky ledges. And although I thought I appreciated the power of nature and I’d like to think I respected it too, I felt perfectly safe and secure inside my mortal shell.
We human beings have an incredible knack for thinking of ourselves as boulders. We consider our life, our stature, our “situation” to be immovable and permanently grounded… as though life, like water, should flow around us but never actually MOVE us. We think if we root ourselves in the soil of whatever we deem important that everything else will get out of our way. We believe that illness, death, loss and change cannot happen to us.
How humbling it is to be reminded—in times like these—that we are not boulders. We are breakable and fallible and nothing in this life is certain. I don’t know about you, but it is during circumstances like these that I want to hold my loved ones tighter… keep them closer. Watch what I say and how I treat the people who matter most. Enjoy the beauty of a crisp fall day or the musical sound of pure unadulterated laughter. And I want to bask in thankfulness for all that I have experienced and been given. I want to put away the cares and worries of tomorrow… Living only for today.
Written in honor of the Johnson Family of Buena Vista, Colorado. And dedicated to some dear friends of mine who’ve recently found themselves in battle against forces beyond our comprehension.