Saturday, February 04, 2006

the rite path

Physical sustenance was found in the Bright Angel Restaurant. A big burger for Jack, a southwestern version of the Philly Cheese Steak for me.
After lunch, we descended below the rim for about two hours along the Bright Angel Trail. The experience below the rim was entirely different. It was one thing to be looking at the canyon, quite another to be in it. One can look at something from afar, or one can put himself in the middle of it. He can admire from outside, or he can be engulfed by it.

The enormity of the canyon doesn’t allow the mind to process it. As a result, all size and dimension is confused. Points miles away look close. The brain shrinks it to fit its own ability to comprehend. Once below the rim, one experiences the canyon differently. One moves further inside, and looks back and up at the great distance from which he’s come, at the towering pinnacles and sheer cliffs above him, but looks ahead and down at the distance that doesn’t seem to have diminished in the slightest upon his descent.
Yes, for me there was a starting point, and I am steadily distancing myself from it, but there doesn’t seem to be an ending point, and so I am getting no closer to it. Always becoming. He begins to realize that his tiny perception of something so large is skewed. He realizes from his experience of the trail past, that he can’t begin to fathom the depths that he doesn’t understand.
There could be no greater metaphor for the journey toward manhood. One doesn’t simply step upon Plateau Point and find himself a man. This is no video game that can be beaten and then simply played over and over again to try to gain more points each time. One doesn’t just go through the motions to replay favorite scenes, or coast through puzzles for which he already knows the answers. The trail is always the same length ahead, the puzzles constantly change. The forks and sidings ever more difficult to discern. This is not a game that is to be won, but persevered.
We met a clan of Amish folks from Ontario a few hundred yards from the rim. Here were several old men and several young men, all with bushy beards and smoking pipes, and hauling young bonneted children around. It struck me that these 70 year old men, and these 25 year-old old men, had all passed through a rite when they were deemed what they would be. Some of them looked like game pieces that had been moved forward on the board. Jack and I discussed this for a while. We both realized that we were both on the same trail, and though I was much further from where I started than he is, I am no closer to the end of the trail than he is. No, this rite of passage doesn’t make him a man, any more than I can claim to be. At best, it is acknowledgement of the trail. Commitment to travel and persevere and watch closely for the markings that show the way and not to be afraid to double back and find the path when we wander off.
A few times as we lowered ourselves into the canyon, Jack found paths that set him a hundred yards ahead of me down the path I was taking. Sometimes a seemingly more direct route would prove unpassable, but sometimes, a few steeper steps would cut out a long switch-back.
Here we go, each like his father before him. One step in front of the other.

We finished the day, aching and sore, with a two person service of commitment, prayer and communion.