We've spent the past couple of hours making our way up the channels etched in these ancient cliff faces, wedging arms and legs and backs in the long striations chiseled by centuries of desert rainfall. The reward of the challenging climb is a perch that's eye-to-eye with the thousand stone spirits of the Moab mesas, all standing silent and tall against the blanched blue sky, all watching us with ageless umber faces.
Now, we're assembled on a tiny sandstone bridge. The formation we're on approximates a pommel horse, wedged between a cliff and a caddywompus spire of blood-red rock. It's several hundred feet from our position to the sun-baked valley below.
There isn't enough room for the three of us, so I'm perched on a ledge a few feet down with my hands clamped around a chain that's bolted into the rock. If I don't engage my calves, I slide by millimeters towards the several-hundred-foot drop behind me -- so I switch from one to the other, an interminable slow-dance with a giant rock in the baking sun.
You're wrapped around the rock, clinging with everything you've got.
The soft curve of your back matches the curve of the well-eroded sandstone so perfectly, it seems as though you've been fit to it. I hear you whimper, but I can't see your face, hidden by a fringe of black hair that glints like obsidian in the flinty midday sun. I want to put a reassuring hand on your shoulder, but I worry that my touch would spook you even more. I can't think of anything to say, either to you or to the man beside you, calmly feeding a rope to Brett as he gingerly navigates the most technical part of the climb. Under the thick mantle of silence, I listen to your ragged breath. Our equipment rattles emptily with each tiny adjustment.
I'm not ashamed for you in the least; I'm amazed you made it this far. I'm proud of you.
Later, I try to tell you I understand how you're feeling -- like being pushed down a waterslide, drawn by an inexorable gravity of expectations, caught in a purgatory between things you know you want, things you think you might want, things you wish you wanted and things you find repellent. I know what it means to constantly balance fear with an ever-changing, endlessly contradictory amalgam of facts. I know what it feels like to have suddenly called into question everything you've ever believed about yourself. I know what it's like to face what feels like a daily tribunal.
I want to tell you that these people don't -- and won't -- understand the powerful and nuanced creature you are. You're on a different wavelength entirely. It's clear that your path is just as grand, and perhaps you're here because you're understandably nervous to begin such an epic undertaking. One fact is clear: your path doesn't start here.
You're more protected than you think, and you'll be shocked at how short the fall.