Friday, May 7, 2010

The Time Between Times

He awoke to the soft murmurs of people packing
Zippers zipping, Velcro tearing,
metal cups, plates and utensils rattling together
as they are gently tossed into nylon packs
The cool blue-gray light on the horizon told him that
the sun was still an hour or two from rising
It had been a good evening, but it was time
to get his things together and be on his way

He expertly rolled his sleeping bag into a cylinder
that was impossibly small, brushing off grains of sand as he went
He stood and stretched, observing the morning bustle of families,
couples and loaners preparing to grapple with the day
The evening before had been filled with conversation and sharing
But it was now morning, time to get ready, time to go

Not knowing when he might fill them again,
he inspected his water bottles ensuring
they were at capacity and securely capped
He hoisted his pack over his head and
allowed it to slide down his back onto his shoulders
Scanning the space he had occupied and seeing
that he'd left nothing behind, he turned and walked
He left the cool, moist morning air of the oasis
for the dry sands of the desert and the impending heat of the day
It had been a good evening, but it was time to go

Years passed
His journey continued
Occasionally, he would share days walking side by side with others
Together, yet alone
At times, months would pass without seeing another soul

There were good times
Evenings spent in the cool of the oasis
where people would forget about the demands of the day
and take time to share,
talking about things other than the hardships of the journey,
the best ways to find water, or
how to avoid hypothermia when the nights became unbearably cold

Every once in a while,
he would catch himself relaxing,
letting down his guard,
not measuring his words,
simply saying what he thought

Every once in a while

One day, he spotted a dark shape in the distance,
not knowing if it was a mirage or the shadow of something high over head

He was drawn to it
He increased his pace
As the days passed, his objective took form, its dark mass sharply contrasting the pale blue sky

He became obsessed with the mountains that rose before him
He would occasionally stop at an oasis,
but just to replenish his supplies and to sleep
He started to avoid conversation
or anything that might attach him to others
The sky still clouded with stars, he would rise early,
quietly loading his pack and slipping away
He walked and walked and walked
His life became the mountain

Years passed
Then one day, he noticed
a subtle change in feeling of the sand under his feet
More substantial, more solid
The sand became pebbles, the pebbles became rocks,
the rocks became boulders

He started to climb
For days he walked the sloping terrain that rose to greet him
After a while, he began to use his hands to assist him
The sharp, rigid edges of desert rocks were slowly replaced
by the soft, pliable textures of dirt, rounded rocks and roots

He climbed

Years passed
His solitude was absolute

One day, as he wriggled his way over edge of
an overhanging rock formation, he saw her
She sat serenely looking past him,
not startled, seemingly not seeing him
He wondered what held her attention so strongly
And then he realized it:
in his obsession to climb,
he'd never bothered to look back and see where he'd been
The mountain had always been before him,
everything else behind him

He followed her gaze turning to see what he'd so obsessively avoided for so long
It was beautiful, breathtaking, more than he could ever have imagined
He dropped his torn and tattered pack to the ground and then dropped himself
He sat for hours, taking in years and years of life unobserved

He could see the oases from early on
Places where he'd spent days at a time sharing with others,
replenishing his soul as well as his provisions
Those times had been good

He could see the isolated camps where he'd spent solitary nights,
sleeping peacefully, pleasantly anticipating
the next time he would share an evening with others
Those times had been good

He could see the places where he'd discovered new ways to find water,
to stay warm in the evening, to stay cool during the day
Those times had been good

He could see thousands and thousand of miles of lonely tracks through the desert
The in-between times spent getting from one place to another
The times that had been most challenging
The times he'd labored and toiled
The times he'd walked with others and yet, was alone
The times he'd been there, and yet, not there
The times that had all but consumed him

He was surprised to hear the sound of his own parched voice as he wondered aloud,
"All that time wasted getting from one place to another...
So much time surviving... So little time living...
Why couldn't I have spent more time living my life
and less time toiling from place to place?"

He became aware of her sitting next to him
He hadn't noticed her approaching him
How long had she been there?
How long had he been there?

They sat silently
And then, hours later, she turned to him and spoke
"I have an answer to your question should you want to hear it."

They sat silently
She watched him as he contemplated her offer
He turned to her, nodding to indicate his consent

"All the time you labored to get to the next place of rest...
to the next gathering of friends...
to the next sharing of beliefs and experiences...
to the next point of repose...

All the time you spend between the times
that you feel truly present and alive.
The time you spend surviving rather than living.
That time, my friend, is your life.

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