Hiking Red Rock Canyons in July. Radiant heat. Leopard-spotted rocks with broad pastel brush strokes and secret caves with sandy floors suspended above expanses of color. I want to climb the natural art like a child on a jungle gym. But, when I do exactly that, a hand-hold crumbles, and I gash my leg on the slide down leaving a streak of blood to join the tapestry. At the summit of our hike, My fiancé Cheri wraps her arms around me, Las Vegas far below, thousands of tiny lives scurrying at the center of their own universes. A minute later, she puts on a mask when a group of loud, albeit friendly, frat boys pass by. “You know,” she tells me, “it feels like I’m always thinking about this virus, whether consciously or subconsciously.” I nod, acknowledging the nearly ever-present weight in the pit of my stomach. A blackhole to hope. “I just want to be here, now,” I say and then ask, “why is that so damn hard?” Her response is simply, “I feel like I won the lottery with you.” A rainbow-headed lizard scurries between rocks as ship-like clouds move to shield the scorching sun. Momentary relief.
I think back to a trip in Death Valley with a group of buddies in 1995. We were all twenty and eager for the world. But also terrified of the word. Full speed ahead. We watched the Hale Bopp comet from the hour-glass peak of a sand dune and talked into the middle of the night. I remember thinking, “I just need a girlfriend and a college degree. Then I’ll be set. Then life will really start.” Now, twenty-five years later, I’m a Ph.D. and about to marry this luminescent creature beside me. Lucky as hell. And I know it. But the world is crumbling into violence and hatred while old friends spit venom at each other, sliding down and gashing limbs. Stakes are high. My little children’s new concept of normal is something I detest. As soon as this all settles, I say to myself, then life will really start. Right? Yet, I know it’s always been in session. Then. Now. A friend of mine likes to say, “If you got one foot in the past and one in the future, you’re shitting on the present.” Okay. Legit. But, how do I be here now? How do I block the blackhole? How do I find peace when so much of what I value and believe is increasingly under threat?
We hike back to the car, and I leap between rocks pretending to be in a video game. My kids would approve. Although the weight remains, I know that my soon-to-be sister-in-law is going to cook an amazing Mexican food feast later and that there is a swimming pool and cold cans of champagne and maybe we’ll throw down some Yahtzee. I find relief in these thoughts. Distractions? Hiding from reality?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it’s my cherie Cheri’s birthday, and she deserves to be celebrated with gusto. Take grace where you find it.