On impulse and needing a break from my long drive north, I pulled off the highway, just past Ghost Ranch, parked, and walked to the base of Echo Canyon. Like almost everyone who visits this geologic marvel, I shouted “Hello”, and was delighted when, back from the steep canyon walls, there sounded a voice, strangely like my own, returning my greeting: “Hello”.
Pleased with such unequivocal feedback from the universe, I continued the dialogue, and asked “Who are you?” After a second or two the voice interrogated me right back, “Who are you?”
Logically, I should have been used to the dynamic by then, but a sense of being uncertainly poised in Time and Space began to steal over me. The speaker and the listener seemed to drift in and out of one another’s positions—reminiscent of the familiar face in the mirror who captures every gesture and every blink. Although, come to think of it, you can never quite catch that face in the act of blinking. And if you unwisely think about it too long, you can find yourself imagining that the face in the mirror didn’t blink and it is you who are being observed.
My next phrase was one I remembered from Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”: “God bless them, everyone”.
Perhaps I was more fatigued from the long drive from Albuquerque than I realized, because a moment later I heard the voice reply, “God Bless you, my son”.
Time to get back into the car and keep driving, I concluded. I don’t need this kind of slippery slope when I have to pay attention to the road for another hour or two. But now I’m thinking—not of Tiny Tim, the child with the power to awaken a desire to be a better person—but of Ebenezer Scrooge, the soul who is so lost in the narrow confines of fear that he is living out a lifetime of loneliness.
Surely, I tell myself, I am not like Scrooge. I am not amassing wealth at the expense of others. Then why am I thinking of him? Could it be that I also am incarcerated within the walls of my carefully-constructed defense strategies, lest I expose myself to pain and risk? Am I, like Scrooge, unwilling to unfurl the wings that could carry me aloft into the open blue sky, into a life open to wonder?
Then I hear a phrase that I know I have not spoken out loud, “It’s a wonderful life.” It wings its way out of the ancient rocks that the mysterious forces of geologic time have left behind, and I wonder: could my life be an echo of something deeply unfathomable to which I only know how to relate by projecting my own faded images? Those images have one thing in common. They are pulled out of a filing cabinet of the already known, each item labeled, sorted, and part of a system of self-referential categories. Well, perhaps I didn’t actually think that then. In fact, in that moment, I felt stunned, as if tottering on the edge of a cliff face unsure which way gravity would decide to pull me.
Then, instead of turning around to look for someone who may have spoken–and thereby filing the experience into a well-thumbed folder in my substantial, explicable universe, I started walking forward into the canyon.