As some of you have noticed, we’ve been a bit, ahem, lax, on keeping up with the blog lately (we often tell each other we really need to take our own advice from The Pen and the Bell!) We’re so glad you’re interested in our missives, and one of our dear readers, Linda Kobert, has offered up a “guest blog” post for us. What a wonderful idea! We’re always so glad to read writing that relies on patient observation of the world around us.
So, without further ado, here is Linda’s wonderful essay, “Surviving”:
I recently spent some time at Joshua Tree National Park with my son who works there. Joshua Tree is in the high desert in Southern California. It straddles the Mojave and the Sonora. Temperatures are routinely 120 degrees in the summer. The landscape looks like what I imagine the moon looks like: brown and rocky, lifeless. The mountains are granite. The dirt is sand. My son lived there for more than a year before he saw a drop of precipitation: a dusting of snow on New Year’s Eve.
One day this spring we joined a ranger-led hike to Barker Dam, a man-made construction built at the turn of the last century by ranchers and homesteaders to collect water. (It rained more than an inch in two years back then.) The ranger’s talk on this hike was about the people from the past, including Native Americans, who lived in this area. “Imagine,” she said, gesturing to the brown landscape, “what they had to do just to survive.”
Survive, I thought. Is that all there is? Perhaps I was recalling my own struggles, how hard it has seemed at times to simply survive, how useless it feels. Is that all we’re here for? To survive?
We hiked to Barker Dam, talked about where people found food, how they used what they found on the land, and stopped to see caves where people—ancient and modern—might have sought shelter and stored supplies. Afterward, my son and I kept going to wander through the Wonderland of Rocks. It’s a place that looks like giants might have played there and left their toys—oddly shaped boulders—stacked and scattered along the dry washes that run through the mountains.
My son, a climber, was up on the rocks somewhere, scrambling like a monkey ahead of me as I trudged through one of those sandy washes. It’s hard to walk in sand. It makes you feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. It makes your calves hurt. And it was hot, the sun blazing. I sucked almost constantly at my water supply. It was enough to make anyone wonder about surviving.
For some reason I paused in this trudge and turned around to look behind me. And there, tucked behind a boulder, I was startled to see a brilliant flash of fuchsia. The half inch of rain that fell five months ago caused a single flower to erupt on a paddle cactus stuck in that crevice. It took my breath away. It made me ridiculously happy. It made me grateful to know there was this beauty in the world.
This flash of color stayed with me as I trudged on through the sandy wash, trying to catch up with my son. As I plodded, I thought about surviving and why we are here and that astonishing fuchsia flower. And it occurred to me that maybe this is why human beings exist: to see the beauty. We’re the only creatures who can have that kind of appreciation.
Maybe it’s our job to recognize what is wonderful. To delight in these random experiences of splendor. To have our hearts suddenly swell with the overwhelming joy of a single flower in the hopeless desert. Maybe this is why we must survive. Maybe this is what it means to worship the Divine.
What makes you ridiculously happy?
Why do you “survive”?
What does it mean to you to worship the Divine?