We Are Not Boulders

agnes-vaille-falls11Every 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.  

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Deep Freeze

ice-crystals
Like armies taking to the fields in battle, the ice marched steadily onward. Starting at the edges and meeting in the middle, its frozen grip grew briskly downward crystallizing all movement and solidifying that which was fluid mere hours ago.

Once again I stand in awe of nature and the uncanny way it has of taking over. It gains control of everything without ever having checked with us.

So too, life goes on without regard for our plans, our ideas, our dreams, our schemes. Time advances on us, like a freeze to unsuspecting open water, and we have no choice but to withdraw… to surrender… to survive… and to wait.

We wait—with overwhelming anticipation—for the sweet, sweet mercy of the thaw.

…and to the Republic for which it stands…

TitleI was driving to work yesterday saying hateful things to my uncooperative hair, getting stopped at every, single red light and growing increasingly impatient as I secretly cursed the slow-moving guy in front of me for consulting his dashboard GPS on his EVERY move because he was clearly LOST… when I looked out my driver’s side window toward the shopping plaza across the street. On the corner I noticed the flag flying at half-staff and thought to myself with a lump suddenly lodged in my throat: “Oh. Yeah. That’s right.” And just like that, I remembered Sandy Hook. Suddenly none of my petty “issues” mattered AT ALL.

I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… people are deeply hurting. They are grieving instead of baking cookies and shopping and considering what to stuff inside the stockings. On the week before Christmas—a child’s most cherished holiday—parents are burying their babies instead of reading them stories and tucking them in for a brief winter’s nap. I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… a community is drowning in devastation as they grapple with the largest, most difficult questions anyone will ever ask.

The flag, flapping silently from it’s revised position only half-way up the pole, was a solid slap in the face forcing me to gain the proper perspective about something as minor as slow-moving traffic. Yet it was an even harsher reminder that so much of what I worry about on a regular basis is utterly futile. But there won’t always be a flag flying at half-staff to serve as such a wake-up call. Eventually the flag will be raised again as we attempt to move forward and the evening news will begin to cover something else.

And while we ought not remain mired in the darkness that so often spreads from unspeakable tragedy, it IS worth pausing to remember that whether we see the flag raised high with pride or lowered with respect in mourning… it’s fabric wraps all the way around us… All of usEvery day. And well, if we can remember that we’re collectively covered by the same cloth… maybe we can remember that this life is about so much more than ourselves. And maybe that’s a start.

Puttin’ On My Big Girl Pants

In my twenties, when I was as young and stupid as a brand new puppy dog, I had a co-worker who was a few years older. She was a new mother and I often asked her how things were going with the baby.

I’ll never forget her reply one time as it was as funny as it was true. She recounted to me a morning where her daughter (let’s call her Danielle) was sitting at the kitchen table in her high chair and just wailing. Nothing would pacify her, so her mother—as many new moms often do—was reaching the point of exasperation.

She heaved a heavy sigh, looked around the room (that was empty save for my friend and her daughter) and thought aloud to Danielle: “Oh how I wish your mommy could just swoop in and make things all better for you!” It was then that my friend realized that the “mommy” in this scenario—the only one around at the time to do the heavy lifting and the one to be the savior—was her.

As adults, how many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation? When faced with something that seems insurmountable, we look up, down and all around for someone who can save us from ourselves. Be it a knight in shining armor, a fairy godmother or a full-blown cavalry — we honestly hope (if only for a second) that there might actually be an easier way out. But often times this is not the case. Increasingly as we age the only one who can deliver us from the stiff challenges of adulthood is the very one who stands before us in the mirror.

In less than four months, my fiance has lost both his father and mother. And I have been unable to do anything but stand by and watch. Don’t get me wrong, I can lend a listening ear, fetch a sandwich or two and make the occasional phone call, but short of a miracle of biblical proportion, there is nothing else I can do but hold his hand and slog through the muck and the mire right along with him.

There have been numerous arrangements to be made and entire lifetimes of memories to be carefully sifted, sorted and packed away for safe-keeping. Not unlike my co-worker and her child in need of comfort—there is no one else around to do the heavy lifting. There is no knight in shining armor, fairy godmother or cavalry to swoop in and “make things all better” like when we were children. And similar to my friend in becoming a new parent… I’m certain there were no instructions in the handbook on how to do this.

This time there is only him and there is only me wandering aimlessly about in Grownupland. I can wish all I want for someone else to shoulder the burden and do the work. But at the end of the day I am met with the realization that adulthood in it’s purest form is when you’ve looked around and discovered there is nothing left to do but suck it up and put on those big girl pants — however reluctantly.

The Secret of Life

Yesterday afternoon the sight of sunshine bouncing off of tender, green leaves and bright pink blossoms pulled me through the sliding doors and out onto the warm and welcoming patio. The sun was high in a vast blue sky and lively birds offered a loud and cheerful accompaniment to the tiny white butterflies flickering about. It didn’t take long for me to decide that this was indeed a far better place to spend some time than seated in front of a computer or television screen.

I grabbed my book, a cold drink and my sunglasses and set up camp between two lawn chairs. Jackson Browne’s Greatest Hits played on the outdoor speakers as I debated whether or not to read another chapter or just close my eyes, getting lost in the music, the scent of the freshly-cut grass and the feel the hot sun on my face, arms and bare feet. Truth be told, I did a little of both on and off for over two hours.

It’s been a bumpy couple of weeks for us as we have been confronted with such a huge loss. But three things are becoming increasingly certain as the days go by… Number 1: There are so many worries that are simply not worth the effort. Number 2: There is so much more to enjoy about this life. And Number 3: Number two far outweighs number one.

The older we get, the more tragedy and loss we are exposed to. It’s only natural. We become more aware of the frailty of life. And if time is to teach us anything, any, ONE thing… it is that NO thing is certain. There are no guarantees, no such things as perfectly fufilled promises. Only best efforts, best hopes and best wishes as we vulnerable, fallible, fragile humans keep moving toward. Everything else is out of our hands.

Anything can fail. Anything can end. Anything can crumble and fall away. All we have is TODAY. All we have is NOW. Time changes like shifting sands.

James Taylor performs a beautiful song called “The Secret of Life” and the essence of it’s message can be summed up in this lyric: “Well, the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” His song says it much better than my words ever can so if the mood should strike — I encourage you to take a few minutes and give it a listen…

Interrupted

Of all things, it was a simple basket of laundry and the unopened April issue of Martha Stewart Living that got to me the most. Yes I knew that she was gone. Or I was—at the very least—attempting to wrap my mind around her sudden, unexpected and premature departure. But these small, mundane pieces of normal, daily life suddenly served as monumental reminders of a life interrupted.

When my mother-in-law-to-be passed away a little over a week ago, plans were being made while food and condolances began arriving. All sorts of larger details pointed to the devastating reality that a wonderful, caring wife and mother was taken from us way too soon. And yet I wandered around her home… finding myself entranced by the littlest things.

Bread crumbs of regular life have a way of lining a path through grief — making it utterly impossible to forget that time is capable of standing still. We are shaken. Taken firmly by the shoulders and put in our place by a power that is far, far greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine. We are reminded that we are not immortal. We are reminded just how fragile life truly is. We are reminded that time is a finite thing.

And then an intriguing thing happens.

Our perspective changes. Dramatically.

The regular worries of this life don’t weigh quite as much. Former frets and concerns suddenly seem petty and paper-thin. The slight we experienced by someone we thought was a friend loses it’s sting. The opinions of others don’t matter anymore.

You see, as I found out a week ago… death has an uncanny way of clearing away the cobwebs in our minds to make room only for that which matters NOW. Living fully. Living intentionally. Giving our energy and attention to those who deserve it most. Not wasting one, single ounce of it on futile people or endeavors. And finding every bit of joy and beauty there is to be found before our living too, is interrupted.

The Most Valuable Thing

I am sitting at the computer in my childhood home. The windows are open and a fresh, cool breeze is lightly brushing my face and neck. The birds are singing and I can hear children’s laughter just outside.

It is definitely springtime and the world is coming to life again.

Recently I have been reminded that life is the most precious of gifts with health and family coming in at a very close second. These are the things which should never be taken for granted.

Sadly, Lee’s mother passed away suddenly yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. We were not prepared for this — though no one ever is. And it has been an in-my-face reminder that life can change in an instant. In the blink of an eye or the brevity of a single breath our lives can be altered eternally and irreparably.

This week as you’re rushing from here to there to take care of this and that and all of the other “things” that we may deem important — take a little bit of time to stop and look around.

As you experience your surroundings—hopefully enjoying the very life and health that has been given to you—say thank you and tell your people just how very much you love and value them.