07 August 2012

The Canyon

I walked up along with the myriad of persons from various countries and stories to behold the Grand Canyon. I was, despite the many warnings and suggestions of friends and previous pilgrims, not prepared for the sight before me. I stood at the overlook, stupefied and horrified: the vista was too much for my eyes to bear, too much depth and color and expanse. I uttered a few words in attempt to connect with the others, but was utterly lost in the layers of rock and sediment that stood before me for so many thousands of feet.

Clumsily, I tried to hike the cliffs and shed a sweat I didn't know my body could procure. In the midst of many others, I felt terrifyingly alone, one small step from the abyss. I grew to hate the Canyon and all it represented. It represented a place to look over the edge, a place to catch a glimpse of something impossibly and dangerously bigger than oneself. As a painter, I kept trying to keep things in that perspective, but all failed. I was inundated at every breath by the sheer magnitude of something vast that had gone on long before I arrived and would go on long after I left. The feeling was of helpless surrender and I was not ready to surrender: I was not ready to feel small.

The gripping isolation those canyoned walls represent continues to haunt. An email came later in the week, in the middle of the storied walls on the drive up from Sedona of a professor at my university who was dying of a blood disorder. He made me, you see, find something important and relevant in the field of philosophy - an achievement, for anyone who has studied it, seem inconceivable. He thrived in the conundrum and on one morning in the classroom, paced back and forth when terrorists slammed into buildings, noticeably shaken by something so real that transcended the irrelevance of so much contemporary dust-kicking. He's now dying in some hospital bed and this fact is as vast as the Canyon I encountered, hiked, hated and adored.

I finally came home to the lowland valley of the Mississippi with no less sense of dread, loss of appetite and awareness of profound loneliness. I thought being among friends would lift this heaviness but it has not. The Canyon, imperceptibly, continues to crumble to the ground. The grand figures of my life continue to do so, with piercing personal impact. The stone walls seem to stand while the people fall beneath them and yet both continue to crumble. I wish I had Heraclitus with me on that hike.

In the end, those Canyon walls smacked me in the face with a you-cannot-go-here: just look, admire and walk away. The same is for those persons in my life who have transformed the foundation of my being, whether they be professors, silent friends or former students.

The real possibility of a continued life of loneliness is not unlike daring a glance over the edge of a Canyon that refuses to yield, that refuses to be sympathetic and understanding.


MVM said...

I love you Jack.

Denise said...

Me too!!!