The golden light is just starting to come through this little window-filled house. Not a creature is stirring except Bumpy and me. Aberdeen is snoring (literally), curled up in a little ball next to me (the NO DOGS ON FURNITURE rule is more of a guideline :-). The white, snow capped Peaks outside my window were a haunting moon color and are now turning a rich salmon color in the morning magic. This place is so beautiful through all it has suffered.
Madigan has been requesting some one-on-one time for several weeks and he told me he specifically wanted to hike the "big hike" down the Grand Canyon with me before winter hit. So, last Sunday, we awoke at 3:00 AM, drove to the canyon, dodging elk along the way and boarded a shuttle bus at 5:00 AM. We started down the South Kaibab trail at 6:20 with headlamps on. The sun started to light up the tops of the canyon walls around 7:00 and the whole canyon was filled with resplendent light contrasted with dark shadows. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
We reached the Colorado River and crossed the bridge at the bottom of the canyon at 8:45. We sat next to a creek and ate "lunch" together on a picnic table. We rested for about 30 minutes, talked about Transformers, helicopters, and what the future might hold. Then, we headed to the Bright Angel trail for the long path upward. I told Madigan, "don't look up. You'll get discouraged if you see the cliff walls towering above you. Just look to the next foot step." I could tell when he looked too far ahead because he would sigh or say, "how far do you think we've gone?" or "how many more miles to the top?" We reached Indian Gardens which is on the plateau before the major final climb, and approximately 4.5 miles from the top. We rested a bit, refueled and re-filled our waters. We took small rests going up and we just paced ourselves. As Madigan grew more tired and the trail started to feel more and more endless, I watched him make the decision repeatedly to press on, to just make it to the next switchback, to only think about the next steps forward. To say I am proud is the biggest understatement of this year. We went 16 miles, with a 5000 ft elevation difference.
Madigan's face when we reached the Bright Angel trail head at the top was that complicated boy/man face that I see more often these days. It reflected the exhilaration of accomplishment, the relief because the fatigue is real, and I saw the spark of awe. As I have reflected on my life, I see marked places where I have pressed onward past "the impossible", I have found a strength that is not my own and somehow makes my own weakness sufficient, I have realized things about myself that carry me more boldly to the next bend in the road, the next rapid in the river, the next mountain in front of me. This was one such encounter with life for Madigan and somehow I know it is a milestone that has built in him a newfound strength and resolve. I pray he will build upon these lessons about himself to more fully become all that he is to be.
On the hike through the canyon, I prayed almost constantly for Grace Gregory who was in a horrible car accident the day before. Throughout the hike, I could not help but consider the correlation between what I saw Madigan mentally conquering and what Grace is physically having to endure in the process of repair, recovery and eventual healing. There is an excruciatingly long path forward to full recovery and if she looks at the canyon walls above her she will falter and lose heart. But, if she takes only the next step forward, sets her mind on just doing the next thing, she will succeed and she will exit this canyon of misery, changed and with newfound/permanent strength that she has not known of herself previously. The life lessons that she has been given, the perseverance that she has developed over her lifetime, the remarkable ability to do the impossible is what gives me confidence that Grace WILL. This canyon will not defeat her.
Press on. It is what is required.
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