Lessons from the Grand Canyon

by Lisa Cadigan


A large framed print of this image hangs in my living room.  I see it as I descend the stairs each morning before I taste my first sip of coffee.  It is one of the best spots I have ever visited in the whole world.  It took some doing to get there, but then, I have found that the best things in life seem to take some doing.  This particular photo was taken at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a few feet away from the Bright Angel Camp, about a quarter of a mile from Phantom Ranch.

My husband and I took this trip in May of 2011, a little over a year after my surgeries.  For me, this trip was rife with symbolism from the moment we booked it.  My cancer experience and its aftermath made me feel as if I had hiked to the depths of my being.  I similarly planned to hike to the depths of the Canyon, and then ascend and emerge victorious, knowing that I had the strength to conquer a Wonder of the World.  I have since realized that one’s being, like the Grand Canyon, is not a thing to be conquered so much as revered.

I remember sitting in the spot where I shot this photo thinking about all of the people visiting Grand Canyon National Park who were likely standing at the top trying to look down, not even realizing that there was so much that they couldn’t see.  I couldn’t see them from my perspective, either, but the difference was that I knew they were there, and I had already been where they were.  I, on the other hand, had made my way to a corner of the world that had been carved out over the course of 40 million years; a tiny piece of this planet seen only by those who willingly choose to go deep, despite the suffering required to do so.  There always seems to be something incredibly good on the other side of hard.

switchbacksWe were warned at the beginning of the hike to stop walking whenever we wanted to take photographs.  Our guide shared gruesome tales of folks who had unwittingly fallen over the edge of the trail while trying to hike and snap pictures simultaneously. If there is ever a time to stop multi-tasking and be present, it is while hiking the Grand Canyon.  It has been my experience that staying present helps me to keep from falling over the edge in other aspects of life, too.

I learned that when moving forward, it is important to stop occasionally and turn around to take a look at where you’ve been.  A change in perspective offers a clarity and depth of understanding that’s not always apparent if you only focus on what is in front of you.  I think we all need to remember from whence we came.  Helps make where we are going make a whole lot more sense.

Although it took some doing to get there the first time, I can go back to this spot in my mind with ease.  When I do, I try to remember the wind rustling the leaves in the trees across that stream, and the feeling of the icy water as it ran across my feet after seven hours of pounding descent into that crevice of the earth.  Mostly, when I remember this spot with all five senses, I just feel grateful to be alive.

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