I was in Zion this weekend.
I wondered, as I stood before the Towers of the Virgin, by the rushing waters, what the settlers from Salt Lake had thought of when moving here. Had they been living on the word alone, or had they been able to find sustenance in the canyon’s maw? It must not have been a place for those light of heart, or for those light of faith. How many, I wondered, as I often do when I come across those who believe, even know of the name? Zion is religious. It sounds vaguely Old Testament to most Christians here. I haven’t met many who could immediately recognize it for the original city on a hill. They know perhaps of David, because of his duel with Goliath, because of his affair and God’s punishment. Do they know the rest? Do they know of Jonathan? Do they know of poor Saul? Do they know of Samuel who anointed them both Kings? It doesn’t matter. Faith requires little knowledge of old fables. It only requires looking up at the skies. Perhaps that is why Brigham Young led them to Utah, because who would be quick to doubt the existence of the divine when looking at the beauty above, the beauty around, that man even today has not been able to settle outside a tiny corridor by the mountains? I was lucky to see the beauty of the reds, the yellows, and the ochres in the bright sunlight. I was lucky to see the gardens hanging lush and hidden beneath the canyon walls. I don’t know if I should count myself lucky for the thunderstorm and the flash flood. The scenic drive back was full of wonders. I wished that I had a driving partner, so that I could have drunken in the sights better. Instead, I had a cute, little rental car. It groaned when pedaled, it screeched when gently guided to turn, it hiccuped when merging into traffic, it ran downhill gleeful, and it croaked and puffed when driving up, and I wondered why they still make such cars. Then we were on the plains, arid and open, and the crosswinds buffeted us so, and the little car jittered and puttered, and I was quite concerned about a thunderstorm for the first time in my life. I put on Metallica, and hoped that the car would pick up on the fiery music to deliver a performance better than it had so far. And I contemplated religion for a few minutes as the winds pressed down on us. I saw finally why Ahab had his priest to kill a whale. It was never about the whale. It was about the boat.
Vegas was interesting. It was my first time there. I cannot see myself returning. I met an old friend who was also visiting the city. We were thrown out of the fine restaurant he wanted to dine at, because I was so many shades of red and yellow from my hikes in Zion. So we ate at McDonald’s that night. The next day, we dined well and fine, at a different place, and the food was yummy and cheap. He was busy on the Strip. I wandered around, and found a wonderful cafe in a desolate part of the town, where they played music I hadn’t heard before. Native American hip-hop? People were poor and jaded, and spoke wistfully about the California oranges. I listened to them, and then when I had heard enough to break my carefully constructed bubble of unreality, I hurried back to the tourists, and took a deep breath, and went off to write. It is hard sometimes, as the words ravage me when I write, and I rarely write of anything I haven’t felt and seen, and I feel all of it all over again, intensely, and it is hard to stay grounded. I am only a conduit for stories, just as the canyon was only a conduit for the river, which wound about as it pleased, as it pleases.
As we parted at the airport, my friend asked me how long I plan to keep running. I laugh off his concern and tell him I have been managing to do that very well all my life.
It feels so long ago, when I had actually stood my ground, when I had known my purpose and believed in it. Faith had once been there. Now, my writing flows still, but I cannot find the courage to go where it goes. I instead occupy myself with petty concerns, smile and pretend that everything has a reason, and that everyone is rational and only misunderstood, and fake that I belong in a place where I will never belong to, and I lie awake at nights wondering where the crossroads had been. After my early teenage years, after some negative experiences, I have always disliked speaking about writing, or sharing it, especially when it is published, because I have strived so hard to keep my worlds apart, to keep my livelihood away from my life, to keep the petty from polluting the pristine, to keep the only sacred part of myself from anyone who would not value the gift of sharing enough. That decision has had its positive and negative consequences, and I don’t regret it yet. Going to Zion, though, has once again painted possibilities vast across my mindscape, and I see so much to look forward to in my life. If mere men could willingly go there and live on faith alone, I hardly see why I should balk at my faith’s call, to write, to write often, and to write as much as I need to.
These are High Holy Days. Sibelius doesn’t seem to be in a mood to mark them this year. Last year had been different. Even faith runs dry, or takes a break, or takes the belly of a whale to reawaken. Closer still, a Kafka grumps about, and no amount of puffing gives peace. There are health concerns in the family. Work is a mess. Even despite all of that, thanks to rock and river and gorge and a latter day’s saint, I am, for once in my life, looking at where I want to be, instead of where I have been.