A Memorable Day

-- by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Walking through meadow and forest and mud, helping and being helped across streams, looking at lakes, stars and trees, smelling pines and horses, and generally traveling through a half-seen world, all happened before four A.M. The ten of us stopped near a waterfall to absorb the beauty of the rising sun. The sky was on fire before the embers died out and only the blues and yellows remained. I saw the beams of the sun slide down from the sky and into a meadow, and felt my happiness slide down my cheeks. To the sky I sang my thanks.

As our journey to the Grand Pyramid continued, I met new flowers. At the base of its peak, I looked up with excitement, and then out for stability. Intimidated and yet determined, I started to crawl up the mountain. I found geodes, and that big rocks aren’t always stable. I wasn’t alone, but I was climbing by myself. At the top, the four of us who had continued from the base were greeted by the beauty of needle peaks and mountain ranges and miles of a clear view in every direction, without the bitterly cold winds and the fear of heights I had expected would be there too. There was simply nature and sunshine and friendship, and the elation they bring. Balloons were blown up and attached to me. People danced around me and shouted, and a smile I couldn’t control burst forth.

On the way down, instead of tears of joy that had accompanied the sunrise, there were songs of joy, and I thought. I realized that the rewards and thrills and memories are in the journey and not in reaching the destination. I had believed this before and even said it out loud, but this was different. I looked at everything along the way. I stopped and rested and attempted to etch each different view into my memory. The hackneyed phrase of “enjoying every step along the way” was something I lived, and as a result I felt richer than I had ever been. I promised myself that this lesson I would never forget, but as I was descending from the highest point to which I’d ever journeyed, my thoughts too returned to a more pragmatic level. I remembered that each journey in my life wouldn’t be as challenging or exciting or rewarding as this one had been; nevertheless, it is the flowers and geodes and smiles and balloons that make the journey worthwhile. I had only been singing for myself and for the mountains, but everyone had heard me, and, when I reached the bottom, I was greeted with congratulations and laughter – after all, I did have balloons tied to me.

And the journey continued. The waterfall we had only really heard before day-break was now visible, and I was convinced to jump in and make it tangible too. I plunged my head under its torrential flow, only to receive a headache from its coldness as a reward for my boldness. I removed my-then-numbered-self from the water and was lacing up my boots when it began to hail. I had been wishing that snow would fall on this August day, but hail was close enough. The few of us who had braved the waterfall then ran to catch the group in the forest before the imminent thunderstorm arrived.

I saw in the daylight what I had (or rather hadn’t) seen in the moonlight. The streams we had helped each other cross in the dark were no more than rivulets through a field in the light. The mysterious woods were turned serene by the rays of the sun, and I thought of the great chasm that often exists between appearance and reality. The mud puddles that had been obstacles were now only another detail of the landscape, and I thought about things that are a challenge to me which others find simple. The meadow where I had tripped while trying to star-gaze and walk, became a place to cloud – gaze and wonder at the storm, and I thought of the many ways different people can appreciate the same thing.

The humbling thunder approached. It growled. Suddenly, the frighteningly beautiful companion of the thunder struck a hill not so far ahead of us. A friend, the only other person who had seen it, and I ran screaming and laughing into the trees, but knew we would be all right because we were together.

A trek by moonlight, a sky on fire, leaking eyes, 13,851feet up, balloons, geodes, songs, icy waterfalls, hail and lightning were my seventeenth birthday.