The lonely and windswept road winds through low lying mountains in northern Scotland. In the distance and across a rocky field are the remains of what once was a castle. It’s easy to imagine banquets and dancing in sharp contrast with swords and shields, idealism and realism clashing with short lived victories. So much began here, traditions, stories, art, all reflecting history and heritage of tribes and dynasties, each attempting to dominate a landscape surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. Despite the rocks and other natural roughness, there’s a timeless quality here, a storybook landscape, and both the words and music of Amazing Grace come to mind. Even in its silence, the powerful total of all of it stirs the human soul like none other.
Cane Garden Bay is on the north side of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It’s New Year’s Eve. Coming from one direction across the water is laughter from those imbibing at a bar, and from another direction come the sounds of a minister preaching to a small group of believers. Then midnight comes. There’s shouting of New Year wishes as the sound of firecrackers ricochets among the palm trees and rockets streaming smoke paint the sky with vivid colors. Then it all subsides as a new year arrives to replace the old. Soon, all is quiet under the stars except for the water lapping against the boat. Then, and with surprising suddenness comes a magical almost heavenly sound. Somewhere up on the mountain slope a group is singing Christmas carols. All is well.
The sun is already low, the yellowish rays of light beginning to create shadows behind every rock on the steep slope. This is Monument Valley in southern Utah. It’s quiet here all the time but particularly now as the earth prepares for another twilight, another time of darkness to hesitate and rest. Only an occasional rustle from a now dying wind breaks the silence. Some ancient could have sat in this same place watching the same sun, thinking the same thoughts. It is a place of reverence, a place to converse with God, thank Him for all that’s good, ask for help in correcting all that’s bad. The rim of the sun touches the line of the horizon, then disappears. The rock monuments turn dull as if they are preparing to sleep in the timeless star lit darkness. It’s time to go.
Into this world, we come not as tourists with defined and carefully planned schedules, but as travelers who are surprised and unexpectedly tested by the strange and unfamiliar. It’s as if we begin as a block of steel to be shaped and formed by everything we see, do, and think.
In the years to follow we will be schooled, create families, hold jobs, invent things, complete projects, manage people, form companies, fight in wars, travel to new places, worship, have fun, attend funerals, and take pleasure in being recognized and rewarded for what we are and what we do.
From the time we arrive, we are constantly being heated, bent, and hammered, sometimes with such force as to be painful, but mostly so gently that nothing appears to have occurred. Yet, something does, even if amounting only to a millionth of the whole, events of fantasy, delight, and reality.
Sharp edges become smoother, surfaces become textured as the steel bends and moves. Then we cool with a new shape only to have it happen again and again, countless experiences and happenings reshaping and redefining what we know and believe, and the reasons for what we do, creating a kind of logic within ourselves.
As travelers to near or far destinations, we are endlessly tested to the limit by the unexpected and unplanned. We struggle with challenges, survive loss and sorrow, pursue our dreams, and with fits and starts move toward goals that when finally reached, allow us to float free and fly upward.
Most important, we know that in the end we will no longer be a block of steel but rather something with shape, still imperfect, yet already a being to admire, to be proud of, a product of everything we have ever done, every place we have ever been, and everyone we have ever met.
For now, however, and at this moment, we are still traveling on an unprecedented journey of discovery, adventure, and growth.
Wherever it takes you and whatever you become, here’s wishing you a good trip.