Stirrings 4

Prev Up Next


The wind stirred. It pulled itself up the great mountain of cross-bedded sandstones, brushing past the sparse forest of pinyon pines growing on the cool northern slopes, swirling through the boulder field at the top, then tumbled slowly down the other side, gently rippling over the orange and white striations etched into its surface, indicators of this area’s ancient origin as a region of gigantic, windblown sand dunes.

The wind, now gathering just a bit of speed, encountered the overlook that jutted out from the sheer cliff supporting the mountaintop. Piling up briefly, swirling the collected detritus from above a few inches into the air, it then billowed out over the edge of the precipice into the huge emptiness in front, mixing with the updrafts from the canyon floor 1500 feet below. The man felt the force of the zephyrs on his body, their gentle yet insistent tugging causing him to break into a reluctant retreat from his silent reverie.

He sighed. Deeply. He was sitting at the very edge of the overlook, his feet dangling carelessly over the edge. The overlook’s safety rail, set well back from the sheer drop, was over 50 yards off towards his right. Here, one was left to one’s own sense of caution and vertigo to keep from swooning and plummeting onto the huge, splintered boulders and rockfall debris below. The view before him was grand, no, magnificent – massive towers of rock, similarly colored as the mountaintop, reaching high towards the heavens, pedestals and thrones for regal beings of supernatural proportions. The side canyon, at whose head the overlook sat, spread out for over a mile before meeting and joining the greater canyon of Zion, its bottom a cool shade of green, watered by the meandering creek emerging from a cleft in the wall to his left.

But the imposing display was lost on him due to the heavy mist obscuring his vision, the heavy mist of woe once again welling up in his eyes. He’d arrived here this early morning after an all-night drive from the city, a long, final escape from that cauldron of misery and despair. He’d only been here for a short time, but already his palms were red from the pressure of his fingernails pressing deeply into them as he clenched and unclenched his fists in frustration again and again. Though exhausted - only partly due to the lengthy exodus - his mind was racing, so fast that his thoughts jumbled all together, and trying to make sense of things only caused more confusion and increased his frustration.

From deep within his tortured soul he let out a mighty yell, “Whyyyyy!?!” But, in the vast tabernacle in which he sat, the eruption of his soul hung feebly in the pre-dawn air before dissipating soundlessly into the great emptiness before him; once again his plaintive plea was neither heard nor answered. Spent from his journey and this last exertion he slumped forward, his chin resting forlornly upon his chest, his body wavering, tilting ever so slightly towards the point of no return. Yet he didn’t notice, nor really cared – wrought and distraught as he was

He looked up and wiped his eyes with a sleeve soaked not from the dew clinging heavily to the spines of the purple-hued prickly pear next to him, but from his own despair. His sight restored he looked about him, taking in the quiet sights, but not really seeing them, lost as he was in his inner turmoil. The wind blowing by, not yet warmed by the day’s sun, was slowly but inexorably drawing the heat from his exposed body and he wrapped the thin jacket he wore tighter about him. He shivered and wished for the sun to hurry up and rise. Then at least the darkness without, but not within, would be dispelled.

“What am I doing here?” he thought to himself. He could not answer. This spot had always held a special place in his heart. It was an easy, short hike from the overlook parking area and he liked to bring people here to give them a sense of the majestic beauty that Zion held within its boundaries, or to renew his own appreciation of the magnificence of this colorful scar upon the southern plateaus of Utah. Yet always before it had been part of a longer trip to the area; never had he driven from home to come specifically to this spot. But somehow he had felt drawn here and he didn’t know why. He just knew that he had to get away, get away from the people, places and memories that had turned his life upside down and inside out and cast him into this deep, deep melancholy that seemed to gather about him more and more even as he struggled mightily to dispel it.

Why had it come to this? Why was he in such despair? Why now was he so full of hopelessness that he could no longer face the prospect of everyday life? He didn’t know. He just knew that a great emptiness had grown over him the past few years, grown and grown so that he could no longer ignore it. Its murky tendrils wove their bleak way into his mind and soul, reducing the joys of everyday life to insignificant nothings, displacing the goodness and fullness of his life with a cupboard starkly barren of satisfaction and hope. Slow and insidious, the emptiness had grown to consume him, like a cancer upon his soul, and was now reaping the bounty of its efforts as he sat stonily contemplating his very reason for being.

His life, he had always considered, was a good one. He grew up in a loving family to which he was still close, though not in distance as they were all up north in his hometown. He was able to get up there quite a few times a year and was often the recipient of a house full of dear guests when they reciprocated – usually in the winter as the weather where he made his home was much more mild and pleasant. He’d always had pretty good jobs that he found challenging and rewarding, both intellectually and monetarily. He’d always had good friends. The particular faces would change as people moved on to new places and new situations, but he led an active life socially and was not wanting for company. His health was quite good and he enjoyed a range of physical activities that helped keep him looking and feeling younger than his years.

What then? What was the cause of this depressed state of affairs, this maudlin morass he was mired in? What has brought him to the brink, literally? What event or series of events was responsible for his sorry state of affairs, for him to now be teetering at the precipice? He thought more. He knew. It was no one thing, no seminal event. Rather it was series of things, an accumulation of circumstances, a collection of disappointments that summed up over the years had become just too great for him to bear.

Like when he traveled up north to visit his family. Lately, it was bittersweet. He’d of course go home for all the holidays, family birthdays, sometimes just to visit, and everyone would be there with their family, except for him. For not only were all his siblings married, each also had children – he was blessed with a whole “Shrimp Gang” of nieces and nephews. Of course he never let on, but sometimes it was difficult for him to be with them, to share in their joys, to take part in their celebrations. He would, through no fault of theirs, feel like odd man out, like he was traveling a road different from theirs. He would feel like he didn’t belong (nonsense of course, but…). At times he thought they thought of him as a failure, like “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” “Why can’t you get married? What’s wrong with you?” He knew this was ridiculous, that no one thought like that, yet these kinds of thoughts would twist and turn through his head, tunneling through his brain, affecting his enjoyment of his family. It was gradual at first, but as the years passed and the solitary journeys north accumulated, these insidious thoughts came to dominate his thinking, to the point where he sometimes dreaded going home.

He would watch his older brother play with his daughter, seeing the pure joy in his eyes as they danced to a tune only the two of them could hear, happy for him, yet sad too – for himself, for what he did not have. Would he ever have? He would visit his sister and her husband and see how truly, deeply in love they were, how they could communicate with each other with nothing more than a glance, how they’d would walk hand-in-hand almost everywhere, how they would delight in each other’s company, no matter what the situation. And he would smile for it was heartening and touching to see, but the smile would be only face deep. Inside, deep down inside, a part of him would wonder why he too couldn’t have that, at least some part of that. “Why not?” He never related this anguish to anybody – he was intensely private - so it festered within him.

Like his family visits, associating with his friends would often leave him ambivalent. He truly reveled in their successful relationships, but deep down inside, not always consciously, he would feel pangs of envy, of missing out on something everyone else seemed to have. He would see families out with their children and he would smile at the sight, but again it would only be countenance thick for he too wanted children – he knew he would be a good dad – and he wondered when would he be so blessed, if ever?

He thought of his relationships. There weren’t that many over the years. He could be painfully shy around women, awkward even, so it was never easy for him to meet that someone special. But when he managed to catch someone’s eye (or vice-versa) he would put his all into it, because that’s what you do, and he always wanted them to work - oh how much he wanted them to. And they would work for a while, but inevitably they would deteriorate, fizzle out, end. Sometimes they would end quickly, over like that. Other times the relationship would slowly wither until there was less than no life in it. He didn’t know which was more painful. Outwardly, he bounced back from failed relationships quickly. Inwardly, well…

So he came to the conclusion that it was better not to open himself up, to let down his guard, to make himself vulnerable, again. And so over the years he built himself a fortress, a fortress around his heart, a fortress to guard against the invading emptiness in his life. He built it strong and he built it high. Afterwards he looked out upon the world from the safety of his fortress, secure from disappointments of the heart, safe from painful inflictions upon his psyche. He manned the ramparts diligently, 24/7. All intrusions were to be repelled. It was better this way.

That is until she came into his life. She came knocking at the drawbridge to his citadel asking, oh so sweetly, to be let in. He resisted, because it was better that way, but his defenses were no match for her smile, a smile made for him and him only, a smile that said, without a word being spoken, that he was the most special person she could imagine, that he was the one she had been searching for, that he mattered to her like no one else had or could. It was a smile that sundered the walls of his fortress like they had been made of tissue paper on a framework of straw. It was a smile that penetrated straight to his heart, igniting the fires of love that had almost been quenched by disappointment. It was the smile that caused him to surrender.

He has always been a sucker for a smile. To him it communicated the very essence of a person, especially a woman. From the way someone smiled at you one could tell what that person truly thought about you and what you meant to that person. A smile told all, and when she smiled at him he could see all the way inside her through those beautiful tourmaline eyes. He could see that for her he was it, the one she had been looking for all of her life. He could see the joy of her discovery – of him. He could see love. And so he smiled back, at first a smile of delight and amazement, that this wonderful person could think those things of him, but later a smile of love, a smile that was more than face deep, oh yes, way more. He would smile at her and it would go all the way to the core of his being for he had found his soul mate, the one whom he had been waiting for all his life.

He smiled as he remembered those early days. Even in his current state of misery the memories brought a smile to his tear-streaked face. But it was a sad smile for they were no longer together. For awhile they had been two lovers like two lovers he had never known, a couple like no couple he had ever met, so in love were they. But in the end history was not to be trifled with, not to be changed, but to be repeated. As quickly as their love grew and flourished in the beginning, so did it wither slowly at the end. The decline was protracted and painful. It was a wrenching experience for him and he might have been lost if not for his new best friend.

He smiled, a genuine smile this time, as he thought of her. She had only recently been in his life when his last crisis of the heart had occurred. She had been his pillar of support during and after, and for that he was forever grateful. True, she was merely reciprocating what he had done for her previously, but he knew that she would have done so even without her “debt” to him. He was lucky to have her as a friend and he knew that she felt the same. She was about the only person he could open up to reveal his inner self to these days, so quickly had the fortress been rebuilt, but even to her he kept some secrets; those buried the deepest. He reflected on what might have been if they had been able to get together, become more than friends. He knew that was not possible. After all they were just friends, best friends yes, but just friends. Still…

And then the catalyst for this crisis had occurred. He had been feeling a bit low as the days counted down to his birthday, a birthday where he was going to be without a companion, again. A birthday where he would not be woken up with a gentle kiss and a hug and a “Happy Birthday” whispered softly in his ear. A birthday alone. His friends were all planning to take him somewhere to celebrate, but he didn’t know if he was up for it for almost all were together with someone, had someone to go home to at night, someone to comfort them when they were sore from life, someone to share in their triumphs, someone who smiled at them. He didn’t usually feel this way about his birthdays - in fact he was usually the one to plan the celebration, a week early – but this time, well, he just wasn’t up to marking off another year. And then he had seen her, his ex, at a restaurant and she was with someone, a guy, he didn’t know who. He had thought he was over her, and he was, but seeing her with someone, laughing and joking, sharing shy glances, gentle touches of affection, had hammered home the fact that he had no one, nobody, nothing. He was alone again, perhaps naturally, perhaps forever. He had broken out in a cold sweat and rushed out before she saw him. Shaking, he had driven himself home, his mind a racing torrent of thoughts as the buried, repressed feelings of emptiness, loneliness, inadequacy had flooded out. The finger had been pulled from the dike of his soul; the backbreaking straw had been tossed on the pile. He couldn’t stop the feelings of hopelessness that welled up from deep, deep within, much as he tried to stem the flow.

And so he decided – he didn’t know when or how – to get away, to try and leave his troubles behind, at least temporarily, to stave off the gloom and despair that circled him like a pack of vultures waiting for his very being to drain away so they could feast on the remains. He wrote a note trying to explain why he was running away. He didn’t know if he was successful. He didn’t even know what he wrote. He just had to get out of town, just go. So he threw a few things in the car and headed toward one of his refuges – Zion National Park… 



She stirred. The gentle, lulling rhythms of the car she was riding in had caused her to fall asleep.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“We’re ‘bout ready to hit the exit for Zion so it’s about another hour or so before we get there.”


She looked out the window, at the brightening glow in the eastern sky. Along the horizon was a band of red, a harbinger of the soon to rise sun. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful sunrise. But, she couldn’t help thinking of the old adage, “…Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”. She hoped that was not true today.

He spoke, “You sure he’ll be at the overlook?”

“I’m pretty sure. He always talked about it and with that note I think it’s the most likely place.”

That note. An involuntary shiver coursed through her as she remembered when she first read it. Yesterday evening she had gone over to surprise him for his birthday with a little gift, expecting him to be home (as was his usual for that day of the week). But when the door was opened it was by his roommate who said he wasn’t home, and hadn’t seen him all evening. She was a little surprised as she had said she would be coming over last week, but thought maybe he had just forgotten as they hadn’t talked since then. So, wanting to help him start his birthday right, she decided to leave the gift in his bedroom where he’d be sure to see it when he got home later. Entering, she saw an envelope sitting on his pillow and would not have given it a second thought except that she noticed that there was a large, single word written on it, in red ink. This caused her to give it a more studied look, and upon closer inspection she saw that that word was “Sorry”. Curious now she decided to open it. A sense of alarm began to overcome her as she read what was inside:


“I have faced the prospect of another birthday alone with growing dread these past few weeks, and I fear that it is not within me to do so again. I’ve always believed that one’s birthday is cause for celebration, for the gift of that individual to us, but I feel like no gift to ANY ONE and I see no cause for celebration. While I acknowledge the many dear friends that I have, and the love, support, and friendship that they so generously provide, I, deep down, feel an emptiness, a lack, that overwhelms me, and it grieves me to the core that I am still “alone”. No, no celebration for me. Instead I have headed for the one place where solitude is a good thing, where loneliness is a desired state, my retreat, my haven, my Zion. There perhaps I will find, finally, the peace, the comfort, the escape from this void I so fervently desire.

I’m sorry!”


Her heart stuck in her throat as she read and reread the note. She remembered conversations they had where he’d hinted at his loneliness, his unrequited desire for companionship. But she had never suspected that it had weighed upon him so heavily. His demeanor was as calm and unflappable as any others’. There was almost always a smile on his face and he projected an aura of satisfaction and contentedness with life like few others she knew. The few times she had seem him disturbed were only when someone else had visited some injustice upon another. Yet as she searched through her memories she realized there were hints of his discontent, but they seemed so out of character that they were easily ignored and dismissed. Yet…

She quickly decided that she knew where he had gone – to the Zion Overlook. He had talked about it and described it to her so many times that she was as familiar with it and its grand view as if she had been there herself – which she hadn’t. She then proceeded to convince the roommate of the urgency of the situation and to drive with her there to… she didn’t know what. She just knew that that someone had to go looking for him. So, quickly gathering a few things, off they headed towards Zion National Park.

Fully awake now she sat there quietly, looking out the window at the brightening sky, yet not seeing the dawn breaking upon the slickrock country they were just entering. For her mind was on him, her new dear friend who had come into her life just when it had collapsed all around her. He had been there for her, generously lending his ear and support when many of her so-called friends had abandoned her. She had found in him someone who believed in her, who accepted her for her strengths as well as her weaknesses, who stood by her when she was great company and when she was beastly company, when she was a bright, shining ray of sunshine (which was her normal state) and when she was the cloud of despair raining on the parade. She thought of the many long conversations where they had talked about everything imaginable, how he had helped her talk through her inner demons, pointing out gently, and ultimately effectively, that perhaps things weren’t so bad as they seemed – at the time, yes, but in the long run… He had been her affirmation when she had believed in her nothingness. At times, later, when she had recovered from her woes, she had felt that God had sent him into her life to make up for the pain inflicted upon her, and that perhaps she had had to go through all that misery so that she would properly appreciate the specialness of this person, a precious gift indeed. Well she did. In fact she appreciated him so much that at times she thought that maybe she was in love with him, but until recently anyway he’d had a girlfriend so she just did not let herself go there. Still…

She remembered, wistfully, him talking about his former girlfriend, about the little things they would do for each other. He would leave little notes for her to find, usually in the most unexpected places. She would, no matter how busy, call him at least once a day at work. He would sometimes just watch her sleeping, caressing her brow ever so gently, content in her peaceful slumber. She would often hide some flower petals in his pants pockets, just to let him know that she was thinking of him. He would always find time to go watch her play in her basketball games. She taught him to roller blade, patiently working with his uncoordinated flailings until he could get about quite well. And because she loved ballroom and swing dancing so much, he secretly took lessons and surprised her on her birthday with a memorable evening of dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by dancing at the finest ballroom in the city. He would relate these things to her and she remembered thinking how lucky his girlfriend was, and if only she could find someone like that…

But then things had gone sour with the relationship, as they all too often do, and it had been her turn to lend the hand of support, which she had done gladly. She had thought that his recovery had been complete and, surprisingly quick. She had attributed that to his innate positive outlook on life and his propensity to turn things upside down and all around until the best possible light shone upon it, but maybe she had been mistaken. Perhaps his recovery had been a façade, a calm mask over an inner sea of turmoil and despair. If only she had known…

They were just entering the park and, alert now with anticipation of journey’s end, she remarked on the beauty about her and how remarkable that the road they were driving on was orange – the same color as the rocks soaring to great heights on either side. “It’s beautiful”, she whispered. Though the sun had not risen high enough to breach the ramparts of stone on the eastern side, all darkness had been erased from the landscape and it was turning into a bright, beautiful day. She hoped the portent would hold.

Very soon they started climbing a series of switchbacks that quickly drew them up to a height hundreds of feet above the valley floor. Ordinarily they would have stopped at each and every one of the turnouts to savor the view, but this morning they had other things on their mind besides the splendor about them. After switching back and forth about a dozen times the road straightened out, finally, and a tunnel came into view. “Oh! We’re almost there! The parking lot for the overlook is just past the tunnel entrance on the other side.” Again, she remembered this from his vivid descriptions, not from personal experience. They entered the tunnel, speeding up a bit, their anxiousness growing as they neared the end of their frantic, if not desperate, drive from the city. Driving through the tunnel they couldn’t help but remark on the several portals that had been cut out during the tunnel’s construction, and how the light filtering in kept at bay what might have been a spooky, if not frightfully claustrophobic traverse through the heart of the mountain.

Finally, finally (it seemed like forever though the tunnel was only a mile and a half long), they emerged out on the other side. As they did a gasp escaped from her throat. “There it is! There’s his car!! He’s here!!!” To the right of the tunnel entrance was the parking lot for the Zion Overlook Trail and parked in it was a solitary vehicle, unmistakably belonging to the friend they sought.

Parking their own vehicle next to his they scrambled out, ran across the road, and fairly leapt up the steep series of steps cut into the rock on that side leading up towards the overlook. Panting, she said, “He said it’s only about a half mile to the overlook. God! I hope he’s up there and he’s ok!” After ascending rapidly a couple of hundred feet, the trail leveled out and started working it’s way around the side of the mountain, at one point going underneath a huge overhang festooned with an assortment of miniature ferns and flowers growing on the side, nourished by the water seeping out of the rock face at that point. But they noticed it not, so intent were they on reaching the top.

After an exhausting dash of about 10 minutes, they mounted a final series of steps hewn out of the mountain and finally came to trail’s end. “Oh my!” she gasped. “Wow!” the roommate said. For by now the morning sun had risen above the mountain they were ascending, illuminating the towering canyon walls on the western side of the canyon, the view from the Zion Overlook. The orange and white rocks that comprised the edifices before them were alive with the reflected light of the morning sun streaming its low angle rays down upon the grand façade in the distance. They were momentarily dumbstruck at the vision drenching their eyes, but only momentarily. They searched frantically for any sign of their friend.

“Do you see him?”

“No, do you?”


Her heart racing, as much from her agonized concern as from the exertion of their rush up to the overlook, she scanned frantically about for any sign of him.

“There! There! Do you see that!?”

“What? Where!?”

“Over there. To the left! Something’s flapping in the wind over there!”

“Oh yeah! I see it. Let’s go!”

She was moving even before the roommate had finished speaking. The emotion of the moment almost overwhelmed her as she ran towards where she had spied the movement off to the side of the overlook about fifty yards. “Please God, please let him be there. Please let him be ok.”, she silently prayed as she ran towards where she knew he had to be...



The wind stirred. It pulled itself up the great mountain of cross-bedded sandstones, brushing past the sparse forest of pinyon pines growing on the cool northern slopes, swirling through the boulder field at the top, then tumbled slowly down the other side, gently rippling over the orange and white striations etched into its surface, indicators of this area’s ancient origin as a region of gigantic, windblown sand dunes.

The wind, now gathering just a bit of speed, encountered the overlook that jutted out from the sheer cliff supporting the mountaintop. Piling up briefly, swirling the collected detritus from above a few inches into the air, it then billowed out over the edge of the precipice into the huge emptiness in front, mixing with the updrafts from the canyon floor 1500 feet below. The sheet of paper flapped in the breezes and briefly wrapped itself around the rock pinning it down to the great shelf overlooking the canyon below. When it unfolded it could be seen that a single, solitary word had been written upon it, in red ink, “Sorry”.