I woke up yesterday afternoon after three hours of sound sleep. There was no way I could sleep any longer. Without hesitation, I hopped in my truck, leaving my cell phone and my wallet behind. I’d found an elusive, lesser known trail branching off of Red Rock proper several days previous and I wanted to go back there to clear my head. After the 15-minute drive, I parked in the rest area-like parking lot and began walking the opposite way I had the first and previous time I’d been there. The further I got down the trail, the more the tears came into my eyes and began falling down my face. My friend Chris is in ICU out in Palm Springs; I’d just messaged him a few days ago to tell him I’d be out again on Monday, but that I’d booked a hotel room, since I felt like I was always imposing by staying with him. We agreed to hang out while I was out there, even though he was going to pick up overtime at work and wouldn’t have his normal Mon/Tues nights off. (He works overnight at a hotel front desk like I do.) His cell phone never has a signal in the condo he rents, so I hardly ever talk to him on the phone. Seeing on my Facebook feed that he was admitted to the hospital on Saturday night, I was stunned. I still don’t know what’s happened to him or how he’s doing, except that he’s supposedly in stable condition. I’m driving out later today as scheduled and plan to visit him during visiting hours.
As I walked down the trail, my eyes were blurred from the tears. I’d foolishly worn my trusty Reebok slide sandals, which necessitated stopping every now and then to fetch out a stray rock caught under my open-toed feet. One of the times I stopped, I looked back and saw someone approaching from a distance behind me in a neon yellow shirt. The person appeared to be a runner, so I started measuring my pace against how fast I assumed he/she was running so I’d be prepared to let them pass. The person didn’t catch up and didn’t catch up and there was a fork in the trail, so I continued straight ahead and hoped maybe they’d fork off. Frustrated by the thoughts whirring in my mind and wondering why this mysterious runner hadn’t caught up to me, I finally stopped in my tracks and turned around. Less than 20 feet behind me was the neon-shirted person, who–now that I could clearly see her–was hiking just like me, not running at all. She greeted me and commented that we seemed to be the only ones out on that part of the trail. I could tell my face was still tear-stained and I felt like a mess, but she didn’t seem to notice as she smiled and commented on the gorgeous spring weather. I asked her how far the trail went and she told me it wound around the mountains ahead of us, under the highway running slightly parallel, and/or deep into the Red Rock park, depending on which fork you took. And then she said this:
“You might’ve noticed all the pink plastic tags every 50 feet or so. I’m part of a 100-mile run that’s been going on this weekend. In fact, everyone’s finished except for one runner. We think she has about three miles left and that’s why I’m out here in my neon shirt, hoping I spot her and she spots me. It’s been a great weekend and we’d hate to lose anyone.”
I was barely able to wish her luck as she headed briskly on her way, and then I lost it. All the tears I thought I’d cried out poured freely again. I realized how even though my friend being in intensive care has nothing to do with me, it absolutely scares the hell outta me. How do I drive four hours and visit someone in a hospital room who may not even know I’m there? I don’t know how to do that because I’ve never had to do it before. And then I thought, I don’t have to do this; I’m really good when it comes to avoiding responsibility. But as I dried my tears and looked forward down the trail, I saw the race guide in the bright neon shirt and I realized she didn’t have to go in search of the missing runner, either…she wanted to be doing it. That’s what people who care about others do; they suck it up, block out their own fears, and blaze down the trail as efficiently as they can to help those in need. Besides which, we’re never on the trail alone, even when we feel like we are. Just like that neon-shirted guide who knew that many-miled trail like the back of her hand, God knows exactly where we’re going and where we are long before we get there. And He meets us there, just as she was willing to do for that last, lone, weary runner. My heart was broken upon realizing the simple metaphor of all this. I’d been doubting myself and fearing the trip to Palm Springs so much that I’d forgotten I wasn’t going it alone. The hot pink plastic ribbon tags blowing in the breeze every 50 feet on the way back to my truck reminded me I wasn’t alone on the trail, either.
The point of sharing all this is that the last 30 or so hours have been a hefty lesson in maturity to me. I’ve been incredibly sheltered during my life; the few times I’ve visited someone in the hospital it’s usually been a grandparent. And feeling how I feel right now, I also realize I have no clue what my parents were feeling when their parents were in the hospital. I still don’t know how that feels, and I hope to heaven I don’t know any time soon. But none of us are guaranteed an easy road…or an easy trail. I wish I could sit here and recount some heartwarming conversation that Chris and I had the last time we “really talked.” Truth be told, the convo was about how we both wish we had better jobs and how we can’t believe we’re doing what we’re doing at age 34 (he’s the same age as me). It’s all so bizarre…whatever life-threatening has happened to him was not supposed to happen. But it has happened, it has nothing to do with me, and I need to be man enough to drive out and visit him. That’s the point where I find myself, scared and ill-prepared.
Sometimes there’s no heartwarming way to end a blog, either. Except that I know I’m not alone on this journey, and I’m grateful for that. Eternally grateful.