I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

31 years of love and loyalty

It started as a little swelling on my eyelid. A little pressure. I could ignore it, but should I? Life went on, but sometimes I would peer into the mirror, squinting to see better. What WAS that thing?

Over the course of a week, it transformed daily—hourly—into increasingly offensive versions of a vision-occluding sty. Finding meaning in almost everything is not a problem for me. And in this case the metaphorical significance of this ocular impediment was not lost on me.

I’ve been struggling to see where I’m supposed to go next.

Life changed on me, unexpectedly, as it often does, last April. It was a shock to my system, though, because the change was not on my terms, but on someone else’s. I am the epitome of privilege, because painful change (not on my terms) has happened only rarely in my life. Like when a lover left the country, and me, without warning once a long time ago. Or some major upheavals resulting from having a severely mentally ill mother. When major change (even the good kind) is imposed from without, the breath leaves the body. The eyes go wide. The feet stumble to keep up with the shifting earth beneath them.

But change, whether agonizingly chosen, instinctively leaped upon, or dropped like a bomb into one’s world, is always an opportunity for growth and personal transformation. In that way, even the most dreaded, hated avenues to this kind of growth are gifts beyond measuring.

So why the sty? What don’t I want to see? Is there a truth out there that I am unwilling to look at? Scared of? Is it just ontological skepticism keeping my vision blocked?

Truth with a capital T can be a slippery little devil. If you’re like me, you don’t often want to see it. And sometimes you do.

Slippery Truth… it’s like a little water snake poking its slick little head up to peer around before diving beneath the water again. All the people who care about me can see it, but I swim on, oblivious. Then, it gets my attention in small but shocking moments. The Truth snake—deep bone-level unhappiness, disturbing knowledge of betrayal, or a heartbreaking understanding that I am no longer valued—slithers into my bathing suit. Instant terror—which in hindsight I always realize was an overreaction—and before I know it, the Truth snake is slipping away again, soon to be a distant memory.

When will I grab the snake and look it in the eye, smiling at it, thanking it for the gift of knowledge that it brings? I eventually do. Why does it sometimes take so damned long? And this time…why must I create a giant infected pustule in my eye to show me the absurdity of my refusal to see?

My recent unexpected change –intentionally not addressed here directly due to matters of honor, practicality, and self-interest—sent me into a brief, but intense, cycle of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining—all within a day or two, then, for me, fear, harder to move past, and, more quickly than anticipated—acceptance, even relief. The clarity and surety of my need to move on was profound, and I wondered how the Truth snake had failed to convey that message, as I had found her in my bathing suit a number of times over the last decade or so. Am I really that slow a learner? Loyalty and love tend to hold me back. Let me rephrase that, I allow loyalty and love to get in my way of choosing positive change, and so change has to fall on my head like a volunteer ladder offering itself as an escape route.

I always survive. I always figure out what is best. I always, inevitably, end up stronger, when I emerge from the birth canal of transformation. But for now I cannot seem to see clearly the path ahead of me, though I know the path behind me is behind me for a reason.

I find myself a decade at least from retirement standing at the beginning of a huge unknown. Single, self-sufficient, both tough and tender, I am unsure. And I am sure. Regular employment has made me complacent. My certainty that this mechanism for transformation is ideal, necessary, and, in fact, the only alternative if I am to continue to grow and evolve the way I want to—it does not change how fucking scary it is to say goodbye.

Remember that philosophical question teachers ask their students? What would you choose, freedom or safety? The answer says so much about you, your circumstances at the moment, and your ability to see your own Truth with a capital T.

Whatever happens next, from now on I will be the only one allowed to apply value to myself. The only one to decide what is best for me. The only one who will dig in and extract marrow from my bones for causes and reasons to be determined only by me.

I am at the very edge of seeing where to put my feet. My outward vision is, for a moment more, blocked by a pestilent sty in my left eye. But it is coming to a head. Literally. My third eye finds itself clear as ever, and these two ways of seeing are in cahoots to get me to the place I need to go. An eruption of knowing is just around the corner. I seek help from within and without. I know my path is clear and glorious, and that when I finally see it, I will leap onto it with wings on my feet.

 

 

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PWITP: Women, Empowerment, and Purpose

What gives you hope? For me, today, May of 2018, it’s the same thing that has boosted my flagging optimism for the last 12+ months. It’s a movement, a mission, a project called Putting Women in Their Place and it’s the brainchild of my very own sister, Megan Park.

And it’s fucking brilliant.

Let’s look at a few brief facts.

Without overstating the blatantly obvious, one of the (many) reasons the current government holding power in DC is seriously compromised is that it doesn’t actually represent Americans. In a democracy, the idea is that the government is supposed to be representational. Meaning every American citizen can register to vote and can actually get to a voting booth without obstruction. Meaning that the people voted into power actually represent their interests. Thus, the concept goes, our elected officials won’t screw over the poor in favor of the one percent. They won’t systematically reverse legislation that, after years and decades of fighting and struggle, guarantees the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ. They won’t deny scientific evidence of climate change in order to ensure profits for the oil companies lining their pockets.

A democracy means that those in power won’t compromise the free press and lie in order to push through legislation that serves only them. It means that they are voted into office legally and ethically, without the intervention of a foreign power and the corrupt inner circle who greased the wheels for that to happen.

And to put it bluntly: 51% of the country’s population is women, and only 19% represent us in congress. 18% of the population is African American but only 9% of Congress is black. 17% of the country is Hispanic or Latino/a but only 7% of Congress is. And 10% of the citizenry is LGBTQ but only half of 1% of the people allegedly representing their interests in Congress is L, G, B, T, or Q. That is not representation.

And what about governors? Just as one example, women are sitting governors in only 6 out of 50 states. If I’m doing my math right, shouldn’t that number be closer to 25.5? And it’s not as if they are running for office in equal numbers and simply not being elected. They are not running. The system, is still and has always been, rigged. Society as we know it is still, and has always been, rigged.

So what’s a gal to do?

I was feeling so helpless. Not just in the days after the 2016 presidential election, but as I read the news reports day after day as our precious, gorgeous democracy began to look more and more like tyranny, or at the very least, a corporate oligarchy. And then there were the legislators defending the NRA as more children are gunned down in schools. And the golf trips of the president on my dime. And the hateful and persistent misogyny and racism. Imagine… the man holding the highest office in the land sticking up for sexual predators and Nazis.

Helpless is a bad feeling. My sister, Megan Park, didn’t like that feeling either. She said to herself, “If the system is rigged… we gotta unrig it.”

Megan explains the “trickle up theory” that fills the pipeline with women from the bottom… up.

 

She and her business partner have a company, Little Sprig, that makes videos. That’s what they do. They know how to tell a hell of a story. Her lightbulb moment was a good one. She knew what she could do to enact real change.

She would make free campaign videos for any progressive woman running for office. How does someone get elected to the highest office of the land? One way is for a candidate to have no experience or credentials and to buy and bribe and cheat his way into office. Another way—the way most often used in this country through history—is to start at the beginning. As town supervisor. Local circuit judge. Sheriff. District Attorney. And do good. Represent the people. And get elected to the state senate, or as mayor. Eventually, to Congress, or as a senator, a governor…

From the courthouse to the state house to the White House—that’s how. And there can’t be just one or two—not good odds. The political pipeline must be full of women. Women of every color, faith, heritage, sexual orientation. If we support women all the way into office, the demographics inside every legislature, state capital, and DC’s halls of power will shift across the board.

And that is exactly what PWITP is ensuring. As more and more women step up to run for office –in unprecedented numbers—PWITP is there to help. They’ve already made videos for 65 candidates in 6 states. They made a video for Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman to be elected to office in Minnesota. She is City Councilwoman in Minneapolis.

Some of the passionate voters (and one candidate for NY Senate) who came out for PWITP.

Last week, my home was bustling with passionate, intensely committed people. Mostly women, I admit, but not exclusively. I’d invited them to join me on the day before Mother’s Day to hear what Megan had to say about PWITP. Their current project—called the 1000 Video Project—is exactly what it sounds like. They are setting out to make free campaign videos for at least 20 progressive women candidates in every state. 20 x 50 = 1000. PWITP, as Megan says, amplifies the voices of women who want to serve and have the guts to do it.

People left my place that unseasonably chilly evening well-fed, well-informed, truly inspired, and eager to help. This is a real thing that we can do. We can spread the word. We can contribute money as we are able. And we can volunteer, as appropriate.

Go to their website. Sign up. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and share, share, share till they go viral! Tell everyone you know. The future is female.

Please join me in feeling very, very hopeful.

Me with my feminist, empowered, badass sisters.

 

 

 

 

Flight and Flame: My Eostre Dream

I awoke with this dream still trailing through my consciousness. A gift for the first of April, for the magical season of springtime festivals and religious transport of all kinds.

The early part of the dream had faded, but in that first chapter there was a quest, a journey to an important destination. In my dream, it was called the Emerald City. I was the leader of a band of travelers—no, not a lion, scarecrow, or tin man, but other people connected to me in vital ways, perhaps through many lifetimes. It was a small group. We arrived.

The rest is as vivid to me still as if it really happened. After we arrived at the Emerald City, a larger, even more adventurous group of us headed out on an epic quest, or maybe it was a move to a better and even more fruitful future that beckoned. I was inspired by this band of adventurers, and they by me.

The hills we entered were lush and green and steep. The group, which included a wagon, some horses, and other animals, and probably 50 people, trailed out loosely in a line along the path into these hills. The journey was very purposeful, exciting, and joyful.

I was in the rear of the group, knowing I could catch up quickly by using my power of flight. So as I left the city, I soared high above the line of travelers and then dove down through the diamond-crisp air, swooping low to encourage them.

I discovered, as I called out, “Here we go! Onward!” that my breath was fire. Licks of flame shot out into the air in front of me and the journeying people below looked up in shock and amazement and cheered.

I could hear the flapping sound of the fire eating up oxygen, whipped by updrafts. I could feel, reflected back at me, the heat of the flames that came from within me. All in that brief fraction of a moment.

And, in that moment, I knew that something incredible, magical, monumental had happened inside me without my awareness and that from now on, nothing would ever be the same. The dream ended with me flying above, the others traveling along below, heading to an uncertain future that did not frighten us.

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

Virtuality Check (not your typical blog)

I pinch myself. Is this my life? Or am I asleep on a beach having a vivid hallucination-induced dream. Like the convoluted geographically intricate dreams I wake in the middle of. Dreams in which I don’t know where I am, but there is a staircase or a porch. Something specific going somewhere or leading away. It is often made of unlikely objects, like wine crates, or giant pencils the size of barn beams. It seems plausible if a little unsettling, as the dream progresses. Sometimes there are moments of relief, joy, empowerment that explode unexpectedly. Other times I must take flight to escape a predator of uncertain origin, or a horrid dream-world plot twist.

The dream is invariably more real than any idea I might have about the dream. Or anything one might think of as actual, perhaps glimpsed through a curtain of eyelashes: a sun-soaked beach, the blue, distant horizon, a sandpiper at the edge of my beach towel.

But I don’t feel like I’m on a beach. Or otherwise plugged into a matrix of hallucinatory alternative reality. But still. I look around me and I can see the brush strokes in this “real life” and beyond, in the virtual world humans have created. The realm of tweets and counter-tweets, airbrushed, bumpstocked, drydocked, flimflammed reactions, counter-reactions, hyper-reactions to… that’s the part I don’t know.

Who wrote this version? Is there a theme? Is the theme the gradual dissolution of social consciousness and the relentless creation of narcissistically motivated power?

Times like this, other places I’ve been, or lived, seem more real and near than the place I find myself now. This chair, that table, this window, that bank of snow. Where did they come from? The story of their arrival is known to me, but is it known to me because it took place or because my brain trusts it as real? The brain that invented the whole story, perhaps, in a detailed mental construct, a subconscious screenplay, complete with smells and tastes.

The feeling of having my hair brushed and braided by a father dead now many years, a truth that lives even now at the very edge of my scalp’s sensory receptors, is more real to me (sometimes) than the sweat under my breasts as I grunt my way through class at the gym, the smell of my favorite coffee shop, or the talking heads analyzing why no one actually in power wants to do anything about assault rifles in the hands of killers. For example.

What I realize is that my brain, powerful organ that it is, loses its power over reality. I reach out and touch something. You, if only you were here. Or maybe the cat. Or the keyboard. Virtuality check.

My heart is what is left, in the end, to know the difference. To know that the madness “out there” is not “in here” –and never needs to be. We can stay in truth. Or try hard to. That place where the versions intersect and something immutable is imaginable. Conceivable.

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune—the ever-spinning, ever-rising, ever-falling wheel upon which we can be racked, or whose center we can seek. The seasons will turn with or without me, you, Twitter, Starbucks, or the grid. The sun and the moon will rise and set, and shed their influence, and their light, upon the world, regardless of where on the wheel we are, at the moment.

For the past 24 hours my power has been (mostly) off due to a snow and wind storm. The still place in the center of the maelstrom of 2018—I glimpsed it for a moment in the night when everything was completely dark. The wheel moved slowly, and I could see the spokes as they seemed to float past me in their circling path. But at the center, nothing moved. Head back, to look up at the darkness, I felt maybe, barely, the shifting of that slowly turning hub, but in that moment, I was able stay still and centered and realize, “I exist.”

Di Sua Mano: Il Divino Made This

These sketches for God’s outreached hand in his creation of Adam, for the Sistine Ceiling literally stopped my heart. For a sec.

Every line, cross-out, hatch mark, smudge, and masterful stroke was made by him. Michelangelo. Himself. Il Divino—the Divine One. 133 drawings di sua mano—by his hand. Awareness of that translated into a constant ball of excitement and emotion swirling inside me.

This shows how he sketched over old versions. Here the rejected then final sketches of legs for the sculpture Christ the Redeemer.

I’ve been a hardcore Michelangelo fangirl since I was about five and my mother (inexplicably) took me to the local Loews theater on East 86th Street to see The Agony and the Ecstasy, starring Charlton Heston as the master, and an all-star cast à la 1965, including Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II. On the face of it, the casting was absurd, but for the time it seemed only logical to put the most heroic of actors in the role of Michelangelo, despite his looking more Nordic than Italian. Based on a novel by Irving Stone and highly questionable in terms of accuracy, the movie did do one thing right (as I remember it a half century later). It treated the creation of art as a heroic act and, specifically, the painting of the Sistine Ceiling (around which the action mainly takes place) as something profound and beyond remarkable—truly earth shattering in the novelty and vision of the artist, and a physically demanding task that anyone faint of heart or weak of body would struggle to do.

Risen Christ One foot still in the sarcophagus, the soldiers shrink away in fear.

The movie slash book takes all kinds of liberties, but no matter. When the artist (aka Charlton Heston and his super-American accent) falls from the scaffold (never really happened) I stood up in the theater and cried out—apparently very loudly—and began to sob. Suspension of disbelief has never been a problem for me.

Another Resurrection. His shroud falls away as he rises. Queen of England owns this.

After that, he never left me. I would not say I became obsessed, but I was smitten. By the whole idea of it. Art. Creation. The compulsion to create. Going to the Met almost every Saturday of my childhood was not a mother-driven activity as much as mother-suggested and daughter-approved. Heartily.

A study for Christ on the cross, also poetry he wrote and later crossed out.

Throughout my childhood I read as many biographies of Michelangelo as existed in my school libraries—first the lower school library when I recall being biography obsessed in general in about third grade, then later in the upper school library where things got pretty serious. As soon as I could take art history classes in high school I was there. Then college, of course, though I did not major in it. I think my passion for the art of Michelangelo was a huge part of what guided me to take those classes and I have never looked back. My love for visual art has been a mainstay of my soul and life ever since.

Queen of Egypt. Rare finished drawing of a woman who is not Mary. Her nobility of spirit is evident as the asp bites her breast.

It occurs to me now that my longing to visit Italy may have begun with my love affair with this artist. Since then, I’ve accrued any number of brilliant reasons to travel to that country (almost all of them related to various artists, artworks, architectural masterpieces, and then there’s the food), and will do so before I hit 60 (my vow to myself).

Sketch of a leg for a figure in the Resurrection scene in the Last Judgment. Added later: a snippet of a madrigal he wrote about being tortured by flirtatious eyes.

In addition to the 133 drawings, the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains two sculptures, a small reproduction of the Ceiling in glass overhead in one gallery (drawings/cartoons of some of the figures are exhibited below), and a great deal of top notch curatorial information to read in every room, something one can count on at the Met.

Study for the sculpture of the reclining figure of Night for the Sacristy of San Lorenzo. Leg and shoulder are all that are finished–the rest sketched in.

The first two rooms were so packed that movement was nearly impossible. It was more of a gradual ooze of bodies that, if I was lucky, would take me near enough to the art that I could see it. Eventually, the crowds thinned comfortably enough so that getting a chance to gaze at every piece was a guarantee. (I think people gave up. I would never give up.)

Study for Virgin and Child sculpture. Toddler Christ astride her leg, twisted and nursing. The figure of Joseph suggested in back.

Almost immediately when I got to the second room—the first was full of great art by people who inspired and influenced Michelangelo—I felt the rush of emotion and overwhelm hit me. Looking at a drawing—red chalk on a piece of paper he had used before (never wasteful, my frugal hero)—the awareness bloomed inside me. He touched this. He made this. His radical, confident vision manifested on this paper. Tears sprang to my eyes (if you know me or have read my blog you realize I react to strong emotion this way). They leaked out and I stood like a fangirl fool swiping at my face in the middle of a mob of art admirers. No one noticed, of course. No one could tear their eyes from the work. Who could?

In this crucifixion drawing, Christ is still alive

I’m no art critic so this blog won’t tell you how and why, nor even what. My only intention is to share with you, anonymous reader, my sense of joyful fulfillment at being in all those rooms with all those drawings. Many of them were displayed in the middle of the room so we could see what he drew on both sides. He often did that. The sheer volume, and the sheer range of subjects, and the way he often revisited the same figure or movement or scene in a second, or even third drawing—all of it “tasted like more,” as my grandma used to say.

Unfinished cartoon of Virgin with Child. In characteristic fashion, orso and arm finished to a high polish–the rest rather impressionistic.

His famous technique of finishing one detail or section of the form while leaving other parts sketched-in, suggested, was suddenly very real to me. His passion for the human form, mostly male, his profound piety and devotion to Christ and Mary, his incredible mastery of all art forms (from drawing human forms to architectural details to full-on architectural designs, and the thing he most valued, sculpture). And his passion for writing (sonnets, for example)—all this was all there in front of me, made manifest di sua mano.

Architectural details beneath dialogue imagined between Night and Day.

On one sheet, in among the others, he had sketched some architectural details, “revealing the artist’s process of vivifying inert forms”*. (Yes, he did that. Somehow.) Below that, he had, for his own amusement, lightly drawn a screaming man, in profile. At the top of the page, unrelated to the rest, a few lines in his glorious script, jotted down straight out of his mind, ever active, curious, creative. A dialogue about death, between (obviously) Day and Night.

Study for the second version of Christ the Redeemer. Again, detailed section with the rest hinted at. The figure’s S curve is a signature of his too.

I stared at this for a very long time. I fell in love all over again with this human who walked the earth 500 years ago. Very much a human, but divine nonetheless, as only humans can be, of course. Divinely inspired to create, change the world, express his vision, recreate reality itself. Like other great artists, his impulse to create and make was never about me or us or anyone who bathes her or his soul in the things created. It was an imperative. Sure, he took commissions and did jobs for people who paid. A man’s gotta eat. But, commission or not, it was clear that these drawings were done by him, for him. Because.

Design for the staircase of Laurentian library came to him in a dream. He drew over the earlier drawings of a pupil.

Studies for the Pieta of Ubeda altarpiece. Christ’s limp right arm sketched three times. Finished sections contrasted with suggested sections.

Archers. Athletic, nude, in action–but no arrows. No one knows why.

*credit to whatever Met employee wrote the text for this exhibit

 

 

The Grand Canyon–Self-possessed and Flawless

  

We’d gotten in at midnight the night before, and seen the black sky smeared with a blizzard of stars. That alone told us all we needed to know—this was a different kind of place. One that can surround a person with pure blackness. And it did, but for the sparse pools of yellow light shed by just enough lamps to get us from check-in to our lodge without falling into an abyss. With nothing to see—yet—we were able to sleep.

When I woke up, my roommate, Chris, was heading out to find coffee. Dressing quickly, I left our little room at the end of a narrow hallway. Turning toward the light that peeked through a pane of glass in a door at the far end, I shivered a bit. This was it. I was here. What was I going to see?

Pushing open the door I walked 15 feet, dodged a small tree, took four strides across a paved walkway, and stood before a low wall—all that was left between me and the Grand Canyon.

My breath stayed in my chest for a moment, then another, and then—unexpectedly and all at once—tears sprang to my eyes.

It is unclear how long I was there, but it was long enough that when I looked around again, I was lost. I had no memory of getting to this place. Had I moved? I must have, though I remembered nothing. I was not where I was when I first came out from the shadows of the trees into the morning light and saw the deep and layered, sloping and sheer, sun-drenched and shadowed, speckled and smooth, lined and creased, orange-red, mossy-green, white-brown, brown-white, brown-red, rusty-pink crevasse that splits the earth’s crust.

Eventually, after a few false starts, I found my friends in the dining room. I walked up to their table and the tears came again. “I’m so overwhelmed,” I blubbered.

How does anyone take a picture of a geological masterpiece and do it justice? She doesn’t. How does a person write about that moment when all the tiny, silly details of daily life melt in the face of deep planetary history? She doesn’t. Forgive this blog, my small attempt at photos and words.

Not that I really understood what I was seeing. I went to a geology lecture that helped. I loved the young man who spoke with such passion and poetry about the billions of years made evident in one mind-boggling natural formation that opened up behind him as a clump of us sat, dazzled, on stone benches in a rough-hewn amphitheater.

I won’t describe everything we did or saw, asked, learned, felt, or experienced. But I want to try to understand what the overwhelm was really about. Yeah, yeah, it’s big. A walk around the rim would be equivalent to a walk from New York to California—so it’s really big. Yeah, it’s old, and even though (as we were reminded repeatedly) the scale of time is a bit much for the human mind to comprehend, I visualized the period at the end of Remembrance of Things Past and reminded myself that punctuation mark represents human history on this planet that does not need us. The Grand Canyon at its lowest levels is over a billion years old, but still does not enter Proust’s masterpiece until several volumes in.

I think, really, it’s the beauty that flattened me. And the beauty is part of the size. And the size is part of the age. All pieces, inextricable.

The beauty is the kind that does not exist in my world. It is not a tree covered beauty. It is not a skyline beauty. It is not a rolling hills beauty. It is not a pasture beauty. Not an estuary beauty. Not a watershed beauty. Not a rolling wave beauty—or crashing wave beauty for that matter.

The exquisite subtlety was unexpected. For something that monumentally vast, old, and renowned to convey its magic so gently is astonishing and wondrous.

The delicate pastels, and how they changed as the sun moved across the sky. The glittering ribbon of the distant Colorado, glimpsed, from certain vantage points. The speckling of junipers clinging to the slopes. Rock formations, windows eroded into limestone, the temples, plateaus, outcroppings, and drop-aways—breathtaking yes, but quiet. The wind blew, creating a silence in my head, and as my eye wandered, the overwhelm was perhaps about an unfathomable accumulation of so many hundreds and thousands of individual, subtle, self-possessed pieces of flawless beauty.

I was within sight of the Canyon’s rim for a mere 34 hours. My visit taught me that, wow, I wish I could have more—a few additional days, longer hikes, slower walks, a few more sunrises and sunsets, expanding time to just sit, more chances to learn. But there was no hole in me from wanting more. Because the Grand Canyon filled me up and left me sated, grateful, humbled, happy.