Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fragile Beauty

     The flames from the fire dance back and forth with the slightest ebb and flow of the night air. It’s not even a breeze per say, but more so as if the desert is breathing, taking in and then exhaling long deliberate breaths as it slowly falls asleep.  The juniper and sagebrush crackle as they burn, their heat warming our outstretched hands.  It is not a cold night, but the crispness in the air is distinct, and the warmth of the fire softens its bite.  We stare at the fire, often for long periods of time without saying a word.  Its movement is so captivating, making me wonder if flames are what first taught man to dance.  
     There is no moon tonight.  From this high sandstone outcropping, where hours ago the vast desert was laid out before us, now there are only vague hints of the mesas and canyons that lie below.   The stars, so plentiful and brilliant, reveal the line of the horizon and the subtle features of the landscape that surrounds us.  Some of us begin to lye on our backs, relinquishing the warmth on our faces to instead gaze upon the grand display above.  Cassiopeia, The Pleiades, Orion . . . those and many more shine their age-old light down on us.  It is a humbling and inspiring thing to look and to realize that this light has traveled for hundreds or even thousands of years simply to meet me right here, in this moment.  As we look up at the endless array, I notice a student reach up with her arm.  Still lying on her back, she stretches out as far as she can, her fingers grasping into the night air towards the stars above.  After a moment she stops, letting her arm fall and rest again at her side.  I hear her take a deep breath, and then she says to me, “Bryant, I’m so glad no one can ever touch the stars.  That way they can never get messed up.”
     Beauty is such a fragile thing.  I have been blessed over the years with the opportunity to spend time in the wilderness with many students like this young girl, and whether male or female, early teens or late 20s, they have all taught me about the fragility within us. The heroine addicts and the meth heads, the girl who sells herself, the alcoholic, the ones who make themselves throw up, and the ones who cut; I’ve sat around a campfire and slept under the stars with them all.  Those same dancing flames have become blurred as my eyes well up with tears from stories shared.  I have spent many nights laying awake in my sleeping bag, trying to process the things I had heard.  Raped, bullied, abandoned, or molested, as the stories unfold and the brokenness begins to reveal itself, the behaviors begin to make more sense.  Anything to numb the pain.  Anything to fill the void.  Anything to make them forget. 
     I have no answer tonight. No wise response to this depth of insight from a 15 year old.  I am an ill-equipped instructor.  It is a humbling feeling.  Nothing I can say will make things right.  But out of that humility and inadequacy has come a realization.  People who are hurting often do not need answers.  People who are broken often do not need advice.  They need someone to feel the pain with them.  They need someone to sit around a fire and listen.  There is a time for saying and doing, but there is such deep value in simply being for someone.
     The chill in the air has become more pronounced now.   As I sit up, I notice our fire of flames is now but a pile of coals.  They still warm my hands when I bring them close, but looking at the coals is not nearly as entrancing as the movement of the flames.  I stand and take a look around at the huge expanse of darkness and silence.  The peace out here is something I shall never grow tired of.  “You’re just as beautiful as those stars.” I say.  “And nothing anyone can do or say can change that.  People can wrong us, they can hurt us really deep.  But just like those stars, they can never touch our beauty.”  Beauty, as fragile as it is, cannot be taken away or lost.  Often we simply need to be reminded that it is still there.

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