If I close my eyes I can vividly remember hiking Mt Bierstadt and Mt Evans the summer of 2005 in Colorado. The view was breathtaking and it was thrilling on the top of Bierstadt knowing that my own two feet carried me there. I remember the joy and awe I felt for creation and for my own body and health. My willingness to do a hard thing and take some risk that day was rewarded with incredible beauty. The trail was so rocky that at times it was nearly invisible. Above the tree line the only way to mark a trail like this is with piles of rocks called cairn. Some of the cairn were tall and piled with great care and delicacy from small rocks while others were just a few boulders, barely evident that they were man-made. Sometimes hikers like myself would add rocks as they passed as a way to leave their mark. In the ancient world cairn were used as trail markers and landmarks in the same way, but also primitive memorial markings in meaningful or sacred places. One representation of this is when Joshua tells the twelve tribes to create a memorial after crossing the Jordan River.
At some point after Colorado I began collecting rocks. I would pick them up when I wanted to remember a significant moment or turning point. This trend died away soon after, but occasionally I would find a rock in my car or at the bottom of a bag and it would bring be back to that moment, reminding me of some kind of growth or change. One of these moments was after a particularly heated argument with my boyfriend of the time. We were outside our cars in a gravel driveway and I remember feeling so small. I picked up a piece of gravel which remained in the door of my car for a long time, a reminder that I had worth outside of that relationship that I needed to discover.
Sometimes I wish I still had these rocks. I wish I had a whole collection from the time I was born until now to help me sort out where I’ve come from and what my journey has been like. There would be bigger ones from my childhood, reminders of the foundation my parents and home life gave me and markers of other people and caretakers. Then there would be smaller ones which mark painful experiences, ones that maybe I’ve only shared with my husband or a therapist. I imagine how the pile would take shape and topple sometimes by the weight or a way it is imbalanced. I’d have to rebuild, reshape, and prioritize.
I imagine each of our stories as cairn; a pile of memorial stones. What if each of these stones was revealed to one another and we could see the shape our lives have taken? This visibility and vulnerability would bring compassion and understanding. We’d be quicker to forgive when one loses their temper or patience. We may linger longer and ask questions about those broken stones or the ones that toppled. We may wonder how we can help to rebalance and reform so someone can find stability and be proud and tall again, but would approach one another with a measure of humility because our own cairn may be just as fragile.
Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, which I recommended in a previous post, does an incredible job of unpacking what it’s like to create this type of vulnerability. She challenges us to share more about the rocks that we have collected, to linger longer and be curious about others stories, to remember that we are all on this journey together and we need each other to mark the trail. Healing is a little like hiking a mountain; you have to take some risk, but there is beauty and gratitude in the reward.