“There it is! Good ol’ Thermopolis!”
Last week, my grandparents took our whole family through the unexpected beauty of Wyoming for their 50th anniversary trip. For a girl who had only ever seen the Southeast part of the state, I was stunned by the staggering beauty and earthly freakishness of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Road tripping with my wacky family through the prairie isn’t unusual or exotic for us, but this trip was memorable because it opened my eyes to the wonders of the natural earth and gave me a newfound appreciation for science (yes, I totally did just say that.) I learned about the rich history of Buffalo Bill and his damn dam, saw a mama moose with her two babies, a Grizzly bear’s fuzzy butt, lots of bison, and a couple bald eagles.
I had never been to Yellowstone before, but now I’m totally intrigued by the beautifully bizarre geysers and hot pools. I really don’t know what I was expecting going there, but now that I’ve seen bits of earth’s shockingly absurd majesty, I realize that there is so much I don’t know and understand about the world I live and breathe in every day. An overwhelming sense of awe flooded through me as I stared into a deep, steaming chasm of turquoise and emerald. I felt like I was on another planet.
For some reason, as I stared into that abyss of sapphire and brilliant topaz, I thought about graduating again. The strangeness of the pool reminded me of the strange stage of life I’m in—the uncertainty, the hope, the fear, the thrill. I thought about the open-endedness of life, about the blue ocean, about forests, about magic, about stars, about kissing, about books, about broken hearts, about healing, about music, about ice cream, about possibility. The pool seemed to understand. It steamed more as I got excited, and then cooled down to reveal the beauty hidden underneath. I suddenly heard a loud “SUP DUDE!” in my ear from my cousin Calissa and was jolted back into my reality: which is that I am graduated, I am moving on, I am a hopeful wanderer in search of pearls in this oyster world. I took a last glance at the pool and smiled. “Sup dude! Where to next?” “Did you see that cave thing over there? It smells like a giant fart!”
After a long but unimaginable day of adventuring through only half of Yellowstone, we checked in to our hotel in West Yellowstone, Montana and walked around the rustic mainstreet to find somewhere to eat. Even though it was already 9:30 p.m., there was still soft apricot glow in the sky, as if the sun was trying to set but the mountains were keeping it up with their fingertips. After we ate, it was finally dark out. As we walked back to the hotel, I glanced up and saw a sky throbbing with billions of sharp stars. I let the cousins into the hotel and stood out there for a few minutes longer. The lyrics to a beautiful song I’m learning to sing in my voice lessons suddenly came to me as I stared into the ocean of possibility above me.
Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.
—James Agee, 1934
Sure on this shining night, I stand in my giant sweatshirt, the crisp Montana breeze tugging loose hairs from my braid, and I wonder who I am and how I got here. My life is about to take a wild turn, and the people I’ve spent everyday next to for years I may never see again. I am alone but not lonely, I am alive but not indifferent. This poem speaks to the very core of what I’m searching for on a daily basis, of who I am in relation to the vastness of creation and the unchanging ways of God. My ultimate goal in life is to experience and know God, even though I’m a wretched sinner and can’t feel Him sometimes.
The passing whims of the world have left me broken and blue and bruised, but I weep for wonder for my heavenly father. I weep for wonder so that every single day that I’m alive I can say I’m living for something beyond myself. Because this life is not about me and never has been. I am so incredibly small, so insignificant. To love myself and not be ashamed of it I need to become like a child, fearless in pursuit of what makes me happy. Extraordinary beauty through utter simplicity. When I feel that soft glow of childlike innocence, I know I can begin to live life the way it was intended. Excitement for the day ahead, simplicity to enjoy each moment without needing to think about what “more important” things I could be doing. Like letting myself eat a bowl of rocky road ice cream because it tastes good instead of obsessing over calories, or taking a nap on a lazy afternoon, or praying and meditating when the world says it’s a waste of time.
So as I move on to something even greater, I will strive to become less and do simple tasks with utter and great love. As I work hard this summer I will work with great love. I will dance and pray and read and tan and laugh and eat and sweat with great love. Let my love for Christ be so childlike, so simple and pure and real, that I glow with joy in all I do. When I get a sunburn, I will endure it with love and offer every painful itch as a prayer. When I really don’t want to share the car with my sister, I will humbly hand her the keys because it’s whatcha gotta do sometimes. When I get bored in my office job as I scan paper after paper, I will take a moment to realize the overall greatness of what I’m really doing, paying for college and helping a small business.
In being vulnerable and honest like a child, I will see things as God intended them to be—true manifestations of his existence. This is my life, this is my reality, and I’m ready to live every moment with shameless abandon.