Expressive 2010 Runner-up
Life is a priceless privilege. Each breath inhaled provides another precious and invaluable moment. Every gasp for air holds the uncertain fate of being the last. Life’s continuance relies not only in the air we breathe, but also in the forces creating our world. The crumbling and serrated pillars of sandstone sculpting Zion Canyon’s Narrows stand testifying that awesome powers drive nature. Sometimes nature’s power molds exquisite landscapes, while other times her strength destroys human life. Even among the beauties of Zion Canyon, I fear the forces that shake and mold the earth. One pull or tug of her crust can potentially wipe out hundreds of thousands of people. Even the combining forces of all human nature hold no great significance against the unconquerable forces within the earth. However, amid the hopeless moments of natural disasters, communities of people can conjoin to create the forces that support and aid the weary through the world’s uncertainties.
How do we choose to spend every breath of air that is granted to us? Today, I spend my invaluable moments hiking deep within the Narrows Canyon’s sacred magnificence. Beginning our descent at Chamberlain’s Ranch, nine frigid hikers set out with sunrise’s bitter chill. Leaves whisper overhead as we silently trudge toward the canyon’s mouth. I liven my pace, pushing my way to the head of the group, determined to finish quickly. As I march alone, I laugh to myself; perhaps, it is we, the American people, who inhale every breath ungratefully. So many of us spend each moment marching along as self-centered individuals cursing the air we breathe. Disease infests countries and starvation murders thousands, yet we agonize over minor headaches and complain about eating our vegetables.
“Slow down, honey,” shouts my mom from behind.
An obedient rock catches me off-guard and I stumble to the ground. Unsympathetic chuckles roar from my group as I am left to peel myself off the pebble-scaled path. A few individuals from my group pass me as I limp discouragingly down the path. I understand that, although my group and I will share a similar experience, we are left alone to make the descent. If you are unable to hike the canyon, don’t make the attempt; no one is willing to carry you down.
My little sister’s image rips into my mind, tears flooding her face as my dad tells her, “I’m sorry, but you just can’t come. Maybe next year you can make the hike.”
An alarming squawk echoes across the canyon as a soaring peregrine falcon grabs back my attention. Separate and distinct colors mount the canyon’s slabs of sandstone. Bluish-ash and tawny-copper go nearly unnoticed as lush billows of green protrude from the stone’s crevices. Too bad my little sister isn’t here to share this splendid experience.
The canyon ahead begins to narrow like so many that narrow their minds to the value of life. I notice the stream has quickened her pace to an impassioned roar. My heart races in anticipation, as I curiously wonder what I cannot predict. What adventures will lie around the next bend? My shadow grows heavy as the canyon darkens. Fear controls my every move as I realize the canyon’s dangerous possibilities. However, I can’t turn back now; I must keep going. I have no choice but to face whatever nature thrusts upon me within the deep caverns of the Earth.
Slipping on slick and shifting rocks resting on the stream’s floor, I am suddenly flung forward plunging into the water. Nearly consumed by the surging current, I horrifyingly peer into the channel’s narrowing throat. Exalted walls of stone seem to surge together, colliding as if to swallow me up. The canyon yanks at my fate as I kneel, desperately pleading to be home again. Instantly, my emotions carry me to the moments when nature’s tsunami erupted the Indian Ocean drowning hundreds of thousands of people. Imagining the scene, I hear the screaming as they run from the coast after a sudden tremor in the earth. Monstrous tidal waves crash intensely against the port as sheer terror consumes the victims. The frightened voice of one young girl shatters my thoughts: “It was as if the sea was swallowing the land from every direction.” I hear the wailing mothers as gruesome waves snatch children from their arms and toss them off to sea. Cities are flooded with death as the deadly tempests blast lifeless bodies into bushes and trees. Eventually, the waves die down and the survivors timidly peer out to assess the magnitude of destruction while they solemnly hunt for their relatives.
My focus brings me back to the present as I still sit drenched and shivering on the pebbled river bottom. Groaning with pain, while stiffly emerging from the water, I miserably discover fresh punctured skin mounting my arms and legs.
“Why me? What did I do to agitate this river?” I ask myself. “My only purpose was to enjoy a peaceful hike down the Narrows; now, I may not be physically able to reach the end.” My group lies out of sight as I am left to hobble alone. “Why haven’t they come back to help me?” I wonder. If only they understood how much pain burns within my limbs. Forced to press on to find help, my weariness is taken away in my own imagination.
I begin to ponder how the people of southeastern Asia survived their first days after the tsunami. Banda Aceh’s famous reporter “cried her heart out” when she saw dead bodies and mangled debris scattered throughout the capital of Aceh. Another Indonesian told reporters, “People who are hungry tried to break in one grocery store only to find food covered in mud and water and bodies of people who couldn’t escape at the time the tsunami hit.” The survivors do what they are forced to do—keep going. Giving up only leads to death. Eventually, relief sneaks into a few cities; although, the aid is all but adequate. However, I suspect that even news of relief supplied the victims with ample hope to hang on to life a few days longer.
Just then, a sliver of light penetrates through the canyon’s throat. I hear the roar of Duck Creek blasting into Virgin River and cascading downstream. With a new ray of hope, I quicken my pace until I step into the canyon’s wide-open mouth. Scanning across the opening, I discover my concerned group waiting anxiously. Relieving my pains as best they can, my companions bandage my wounds and feed me lunch. After sufficient rest, we scurry off downstream to again find the canyon sealing herself up. However, our worries are somewhat alleviated as we discover that the canyon is less narrow than the earlier portion. As we slide over a slippery bed of slimy, smooth rocks, members of my crew begin to compassionately inquire about my injuries. After reaching the springs, our guide reluctantly informs us that our journey is only halfway over.
Desperate to break the monotony of the continuous canyon path, my mind again slips back to the hardships in southeastern Asia. The persistent troubles of the survivors escalated when fresh water supplies diminished and they realized the death and destruction had not yet ceased. Salt water, toxic waste, and asbestos contaminated their way of life. It became a race against time as hundreds of thousands of survivors now faced starvation, disease, and exposure. Over one billion dollars worth of aid swamps into southeastern Asia to help initiate the relief process. Unfortunately, destroyed road links and disorganization do not allow the aid to be of much use. Monsoon rains and flash floods impose increased mayhem on Sri Lankan victims, as the outbreak of disease becomes a severe possibility. However, an even more painful scenario plays out before me as I envision childless mothers desperately fighting for an orphaned child. The image of nine women flocking and pleading for a rescued infant floods into my mind. The heart-wrenching screams from these mothers echo inside my head: one threatening to kill the doctor, while another promises to commit suicide if not given the child.
Pulling my attention, with a “whoosh” my mother slides off the riverbed and dives into the stream. Her eyes gush with tears, as she lies beaten on the floor of the racing river. I hear her sputter, “I can’t go on!”
My father reaches out to rescue her and sympathetically says, “Well, you can’t go back. You’ll be okay, though; I’ll help you the rest of the way.”
Mom lifts her hand from the water and grasps hold of dad’s. He draws her from the water, and together they trudge down the stream. The rest of the group follows in a single line warning one another of deep holes, giant rocks, or slippery stones beneath the river’s obscure face. Since danger has not completely escaped our grasp, we assist each other in our voyage downstream. I silently wonder when the canyon will reopen and our journey will end, although, I find the way easier in the midst of my group.
Slowly light soaks into the widening canyon as we welcome the admiring smiles of hikers freshly pounding up the stream. As the number of hikers increase, we know the end is nigh. My mother breaks free from my dad confident she can finish the journey. Chattering and roaring with laughter, my group’s spirits lighten for the first time on this trek.
The smile on my face grows as I recall the New Zealand clown that traveled to Indonesia to lighten the spirits of the tsunami victims. I picture him helping the grieving children to cope with their losses by teaching them to laugh again. The clown’s upbeat voice is heard in my ears, “One doctor told me he was having trouble holding back the tears as he watched the children he had been dealing with for the past two months suddenly laughing and playing.” I visualized those children remembering to be kids again by finding laughter to heal their wounds and by bringing light back into their lives. I imagine that in this situation, “laughter is,” no doubt, “the best medicine.” Concerned people from all over the world also sacrificed much of their time, money, and goods to donate to the largest relief operation that the world has, perhaps, ever known. Realizing that the aid must reach the millions affected by the disaster soon, world leaders met to resolve a quick relief. They also committed to rebuilding the shredded islands by working together. These chieftains believe that by building an early warning system in the Indian Ocean, they can prevent this scale of disaster from reoccurring. Although no community of people can prevent the vigorous and unpredictable forces of nature, together we can lift our neighbor’s burdens to survive and lend purpose to life.
A jubilant call from ahead confirms that our journey’s end has come. Crimson plasters the sandstone walls that glisten with excitement in the sun. The canyon radiates with vivacious people hiking, climbing, and splashing in the water. I laugh to myself; perhaps, I was wrong about humans. By nature, we are as compassionate and sociable species that relies heavily on one another. Our most gratifying moments can very well be when we are in the service of others.
How do we choose to spend every moment that is granted to us? We do exactly what we must do to survive—keep going. We pick up our pieces and realize that life continues on. The world may never be the same, but we are stronger after trudging through its calamities. However, we need not face the world’s obstacles alone. The words of a famous hymn remind us that, “We are all enlisted until the conflict is o’er, / Happy are we! Happy are we!” When the strength of cheerful attitudes combine with the power of a united people, it can create an incalculable force to help support and aid us all through the world’s uncertainties.