I read once that Bhutan–where Shangri-la was thought to be located–is one of the last areas on earth still untouched, pristine in all its vistas; it is called a place where nature and people live in harmony. Untainted flora and unhunted fauna live among humans in a symbiosis unheard of in the developed world. The beauty there astounds all who see it. I fancied myself a monk, finding my peace and place in life hung in the air between God and the canyon floor; this would be my monastery, my quiet place. I felt small–compared to the earth. Not the bad kind of small, but rather the uncomfortable cleansing terror of something bigger. This was something good. If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, you know what I mean. Any adventuresome thought of seeking Satan in Hells Canyon was erased immediately. God stood here among the humans, and His land remained defiant of any names they might impose.
Our guide told us this place was called Suicide Cliff, a name I’ve heard given to countless high rock formations. She said two lovers climbed up here to end it all because they loved each other and their feuding families didn’t like that. I put my own spin on it. I imagined them climbing up here, looking over the horizonless jagged grace before them and changing their minds. Filled with hope, they resolutely climbed out of the canyon, higher up until they had to go down again, running away to an exquisite existence. Passing cows all the way.
My father, uncles, and I stood with the vista behind us and asked our guide to snap a quick photo. The blurry image we got back made me wonder if I was the only person on the planet who could hold a camera still. But then, maybe that sacred place wasn’t supposed to be photographed. Its out-of-focus image registering on the silver halide crystals remains just one step short of blasphemy, all God afforded me of physical evidence of this place.
We struggled to find footholds as well as words to describe our experience. We climbed back down to camp. I climbed into my tent and fell asleep.
But God wasn’t done with me, not yet. A light clicked on over my tent’s window, trickling through the nylon screen. It woke me up. I thought my uncle was messing with me, as he’s apt to do sometimes, shining his flashlight in my face. But no one was there. I looked around. My father wasn’t in his sleeping bag.
The light was coming from the night sky. I left the tent and saw the moon hanging on the rim of the canyon. Imagine a nighttime sun, just dim enough to view without pain. Hundreds of miles from any city haze, it was perfectly clear. This night sky was alive. I looked closely and saw His face reflected there. There were millions of stars, so bright and so populous, I felt small again–this time, in view of the cosmos. At the same time I realized something: as God was laughing and hanging His ebony sheet, ensconcing the universe and only letting the full radiance of His glory shine through the little pinpricks in the fabric He designed, He was already thinking of me and including me here, at this place, at this time. A small piece of cosmos am I. It’s too enormous to get my mind around sometimes, but that night I stretched my mind, my being, enough to understand. I knew it right down to the core of my cellular structure, in my hidden places.
It was so bright I could walk around without a flashlight. I found my dad and my uncles by the river. I put my arm around my father. He understood. My uncles prodded me in amazement, which is all one can do when there are no words. We basked in the experience. We all laughed. My status had been upgraded.