Big Sur: Thanks for the Memories

“The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories, because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.” – Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to be living life in the active sense of the word. Not just alive, but living. I’ve been traveling to new places, seeing different sights, meeting new friends, and learning from various wonderful men and women. Not a day goes by in which I am not aware of this wondrous privilege, and I am thankful for the Maker who has generously allowed for this rich period of my life. Lord willing, I intend to make more of these experiences in my days ahead.

Yet in the midst of it all I realize there must be a necessary time to pause and reflect. How tragic and disheartening it would be to simply take an experience as sensory and not allow it to marinate deeper within us. To record our memories, then, is to acknowledge their power not only to speak in the moment but to nurse and minister to our souls in ways that we can appreciate only with the passing of time.

Big Sur will live as one of those memories. It speaks to me now, and I entrust it will speak to me again (perhaps in new ways) as I return to take from this jar in the future. Some trips are made because of the people, others because of the place. Yet the few that become sacred are the trips forged by both. I have not experienced another trip in recent memory that made me appreciate the beauty found in nature and friendship as much as I did walking through those majestic hills and sharing laughs around the campfire.

One of my biggest fears is that one day I’ll forget it all. In the event that I am ever stricken with amnesia or dementia or what have you, I pray that I will be led to this page and recall a part of me that experienced something I would dare call divine.

There is something about moving through a mountain enveloped in fog that will not allow you to settle. What I mean is, fog creates this sort of tension that has potential to lead to either a subtle disappointment or wonderful crescendo. You are walking through a seeming mystery, the sight of rocks and ocean veiled by an atmospheric curtain, and there is no promise it will be lifted. Yet the day assumes the sun (as does the weather forecast), and so you walk on through the Wordsworth-like scene and take in the sublime awe of dirt, grass and trees in the fog with the ever slightest sliver of hope that the mighty sun will awaken.

At some point along our trail we come across this plot of forest, and though slightly off the beaten path, we enter. With all the imagination our minds could muster we dream our own Narnia, pretend we are our very own adventurers and queens. Meg transforms into a french hostess of the woods and we, her delighted guests. We assume an impromptu game of hide n’ seek and Murray darts through the thin redwoods with vulpine aplomb. In this moment, I–I am transported back to my innocent days as a young and wide-eyed explorer–and my mind is filled with wonder.

Through thin and tortuous trails, we make our way through the leafy maze. Rays of sunlight begin to shoot through the uncovered forest; tension builds. We are eager to make our way out of the forest, to see what might greet us on the other side. So I stepped over the ivy, ducked my head under the low-hanging branches, and kept trekking (though I stopped to chuckle at Shelley when her shoe caught in a branch’s knot). Though the track was steep, we eventually find our way out.

What greeted me at trail’s end was a masterpiece presentable only by God Almighty. Our group of seven was struck breathless in the sight of radiant glory–there were no words. Quietly, easily, we laid our bags on the ground and took our time in silence to share this uniquely communal-yet-personal experience with our Maker. The moment had transcended into the sacred.

Around the campfire later that night, we sat around on full stomachs looking to entertain one another with old tales of horror. What we got instead was a “popcorn-style”, group ad-libbed story initiated by Brittany that was unraveled and expanded on for the next half hour. It all began as a “Once upon a time in land far away, a land like Ireland…” but included Stevo-sponsored “Meanwhiles…” and led to crazy twists and turns involving dogs with injured legs, magical leprechauns, a love-sick spinster, and a tough New York priest named Brooklyn Dave (along with his friend Crocodile Marty in Australia).

We all laughed heartily at the accents (and at the people who attempted them) and the intricate yet nonsensical machinations of the story, while appreciating the inner-workings of the people who delivered them. I sat there marveling at someone like Feibes who possesses such a God-given ability to entertain others with his humor and charm. I was equally amused by Murray whose attention to details (not to mention, his failed attempts to keep a nonsensical story straight) exposed his practical, engineer-like hardwiring. It is a great joy when you are able to see a glimpse of God through His people.

The story abruptly ended. As each person filtered out to clean up and tie up loose ends, I stood there alone before the fire, full of life and cheer. The adventure was ending, the trip rounding near to its close. Yet it was not lost unto me the subtle narrative that was being told by the Grand Storyteller. “I am glad you get to enjoy Me and enjoy My people. This is the better part of life, and I give this privilege of life to you.”

In a world of cruise-controls and autopilots, it is easy to default into our work days and family lives without much thought. But listen with your heart, learn to look for the subtle graces you’ve been granted, and never lose that divine wonder. May we stake our life at seeking and sharing the greater story.