If you’ve read my last few attempts at blogging then you know my daughter and I traveled to Sedona, Arizona recently. She had been before, so I had a knowledgeable and really cute tour guide who also had a whole list of must-sees/dos for her mommy. On that list just happened to be the Grand Canyon, an approximately two hour drive away, but one which was to be well worth the time spent.
I won’t comment on the trip over for, although my little Kathryne is an excellent driver, I am not the best passenger, especially when the non-existent shoulder of the road is a straight drop of several thousand feet (which is probably an exaggeration, but not from where I was sitting). We thankfully arrived unscathed, parked, and began our approach and contemplation of the afternoon’s activities. She really, really wanted me to hike a ways down the Bright Angel Trail. She and her husband had actually made a day of it when they visited, hiking 4.5 miles in . . . downhill . . . on a sweltering day in June . . . knowing they had to hike back out 4.5 miles . . . uphill. Despite its relative simplicity, she wasn’t nearly as optimistic about this mini-trek, because my Kathryne knows me too well—and she knows that high places are not always my friend.
I can stand on a step ladder with no problem whatsoever; I do it every year to decorate the Christmas trees, as well as scaling the kitchen cabinets to get to the windows. I can climb an extension ladder and transition from it to the flat roof of our building with no trouble at all. I can even fly in an airplane at 30,000 feet without panicking. But walking down a three to four foot wide dirt trail with no place to go but several hundred feet straight down if I fall? Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.
Not wanting to disappoint my child—and firmly believing that I could will power my way through a tiny portion of the trail—I agreed. As we started down I constantly reminded myself not to look. If I didn’t see it, then it wasn’t there.
That’s actually a lie and my brain knew it.
The farther we walked (which wasn’t very far), the more I realized for every step down there had to be a step back up—on the outside of the trail if I met anyone. The outside that’s right next to nothing but air. As we approached the first bend in the trail, which was also the location of a very large sign, I looked at her and said, “Kathryne, I don’t think this is going to happen.” And she said, “I don’t guess you want to know we aren’t even on the trail, yet. It starts at that sign.” And I said something I shouldn’t have.
We turned around and hiked back up, me with my hand resting on the sheer rock wall to my left (like it would keep me from dying) and her fearlessly tagging along behind me. At one point I approached a group of three people . . . three people who were just STANDING there, taking up my space that I desperately needed so I could continue to touch the wall . . . MAKING me edge closer to the abyss that lay to my right. But I did. And I passed them. And I didn’t fall off . . . or knock them over trying to get beyond them while not getting too close to the canyon.
When my feet finally landed on the solid ground of the south rim, I realized I really hadn’t been breathing. I also realized I wanted to throw up and/or cry (or both) from panic and then from relief. And I made her promise not to tell anyone. So here I am telling the world. My only consolations are that I actually did try, I didn’t drop to my hands and knees and crawl back up, and no helicopters were involved.
After the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, among other works, wrote A Grief Observed in which he said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Although my losses have been limited to my parents and grandparents, I have experienced grief. And, although I have been afraid in the past, on that day I experienced fear to a depth I did not know was possible. And I can tell you, C. S. Lewis was right.
The physical effects of grief so closely resemble those of fear that one could easily be mistaken for the other. And perhaps that is because grief and fear are inseparable companions. When Death visits, claiming his intended victim, he leaves fear in his wake—fear of life without someone in whom our life is bound, fear of an unknown and uncertain future, fear of life in general because it is now so very different. I survived my terror-inducing experience, as I knew I would . . . once I did. But those who are grieving don’t have the comfort of solid ground for which to aim and upon which to stand, at least not for months and often years—and sometimes, never.
When grief and fear reside in the same soul, those of us around them can help by offering to listen and support them as they struggle. We must be patient and not filled with condemnation for their “inability” to overcome and move on with their lives. If we haven’t been there, we can never know the depth of their suffering. And if we have, then we should remember our own pain . . . and understand theirs.