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Ruminations Over the Rockies

What is it about the sight of the Earth from high above that renders me profoundly introspective? On the flight out to Colorado to visit Rebecca, I remember looking out the window at the Rockies spread out in sunset below and thinking, “In no time, I’ll be back on a plane again heading home and my time in Boulder will be over.” But I told myself not to think about it and to just enjoy the visit. Now here I am on the flight home, and I can’t stop thinking about time, about how quickly our lives pass. The moments slip away, and either we are wishing the time away or we are simply oblivious to its swift passage. We rush through our days and fly through our lives, until something happens to bring us up short. It takes a trauma like the death of someone we dearly love to make us realize what we should remember all along: that life is too short. Too short to argue, too short to hurt each other, too short to play games with our feelings and those of others.

Somehow, somewhere along our journey through life, we become blasé about the whole experience. Gone are the reverence and wonder, the lump in the throat and soaring swell of the heart, at the sight of a spectacular sunset. As we rush about our daily business, absorbed in worrying about what seem  like important problems, we lose our awareness of the essential wonder of life. As if blind or deaf, we have lost a dimension of our experience of the world. In insulating ourselves against pain and fear, we also block our appreciation of the beauties in this world: the feel of cool, green grass beneath our feet; the splash of a park fountain against our faces on a warm summer’s night; the suffusing, sweet glow of a ripe peach that floods our mouths as we bite into its velvety flesh; the tang of a deep breath of ocean air as we walk along a beach; the primitive, sensual pull of the feel and smell of a loved one’s skin. We suppress the child-like inclination to STOP and become engrossed in the tiny miracles of shell, sand and stone in a three-foot-square patch of beach, or marvel at the miniature, perfectly symmetrical petals of a wildflower. And when we don’t take the time to stop and savor these moments, that time is lost to us.

So often we go through life so afraid not only of dying, but of living. We are afraid to begin a conversation with the stranger sitting next to us on a plane; afraid to tell people in our lives how we truly feel about them—whether good or bad; afraid to move to a city where we know no one. In our quest to feel in control of our lives, we censor our interaction with the people around us. The natural flow of communication becomes stilted as it hits roadblocks we set up along its path. Riding in the car alongside a friend, lover or family member and engaged in everyday conversation, an overwhelming wave of love for that person suddenly washes over us out of nowhere, but we don’t give voice to it. Why? Why do we resist love? Because to love makes one vulnerable to loss and the pain that accompanies it. We become so skilled at building walls between the “outside” world and ourselves, figuring that if we don’t allow anyone in, we won’t be hurt. We think we are protecting ourselves, but in the end these roadblocks only hurt us by keeping love at bay. We complain about being alone, yet we create our own isolation.

We might think someone brave for jumping out of a plane, but in truth, it takes real strength and courage to love. We can choose to expose ourselves to the joy and wonder of becoming close to another person and accept the potential for pain, or pass that person by and never discover how that relationship might have opened our eyes and hearts. Of all the fears in life, fear of love is the saddest of all. Like all fears, it limits our experience of life; it robs us of life. Loss is an inevitable part of loving someone else; sooner or later, we will lose all those whom we love. But to never reach out to and love others for that reason is to truly lose.

Embracing our fear, rather than letting it immobilize us, is incredibly liberating and empowering. We can learn to take control of fear and make its power our own. The same is true of pain and loss; they can cripple us if we let them, or they can strengthen our souls. As Nietzsche said, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Pain is just a form of wisdom that arrives in a less-than-palatable form. But every experience, every interaction with another human being has something to each us, if we’re willing to open our hearts and minds to listen.

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