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.
These exploring’s you describe remind me of the American Indians affinity and interrelationship with ‘place’… places associated with origin stories, and spiritual activities. Their identity perhaps like the mirror reversal experience… thinking…am I the reflecting entity or the reflection… and perhaps the ultimate realization – I am both and neither.
Makes me think of your canyon, and many of my experiences of place with vast open space… how external space has a kinship with internal space. Perhaps your tiredness in the moment weakened your determination to focus on the narrow road made you susceptible to the tug and sweep of the space of canyon and sky… And it sparked a private abstruse pull toward a deeper focus, an inner yearning for the bottom of the bottomless…
Thanks for your welcoming comment, David. It makes me feel that my divergent thoughts have a home port to sail into.
That’s interesting that you were reminded of “origin stories”, because I modified something I wrote in my 20’s (also about echos and the life force behind them) for a blog I posted here in March 2015:
Maybe God was playing with you. God has a great sense of humor.
I love the tug between our practical world and the unknown. You made the right decision to go forward into the real unknown.
If God didn’t have a sense of humor we’d be in serious trouble.
Perhaps the tug between our practical world and the unknown can only be balanced when our inner world honors both (the practical and the mysterious). There’s a saying that compassion and wisdom are like the two wings of a bird. That seems true of all the ways we (wisely) hold back from the folly of life yet reach out to act with (compassionate) feeling for our fellow beings.
It seems a dilemna that will not be solved quickly: How do we not get mired in negatively when see the folly? How do we not become discouraged when we see the dismal situations of so many?