As a man who walks daily with depression and anxiety, I often find myself in the darkness wondering what happened to my life. Dreams and possibilities seem to have fled into a yawning cavern of disappointment and meaningless loneliness. Reality reverberates with a cacophony of anxious voices echoing despairingly in my soul. It is from this place that I find myself writing today.
A memory slips quietly into the chaos of my thoughts. It is a scene of hiking down into the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago with my two sons. Our journey started with tremendous enthusiasm and wonder at the beauty of the canyon. After what seemed to be endless miles, however, the sun started setting, night settled in around us, and our spirits faltered. Our headlamps showed us the path, but the darkness and wildness of the canyon made us feel small and vulnerable.
When we reached a point where the trail seemed to disappear into a small creek bed, the map I had brought proved unhelpful. My uncertainty grew, my lack of direction became more apparent, and I could feel fear radiating from my sons. Had we taken a wrong turn somewhere? Should we go back to a point where I remembered the trail seeming to split? My instincts kept telling me that we were on the right path, but where was the way forward? After searching down the creek a ways, I found what looked like a trail. We started to hike again, but a mile farther we stopped, doubt still hanging over me.
I gathered the boys together and gave them the only words of encouragement I could find. We are going to survive. Our packs held plenty of food to sustain us, and we had our tent for shelter. We would just camp beside the trail and trust that the morning light would bring us clarity. The rising sun would ignite new courage to get up and keep moving, but for now we needed the courage to wait.
It was a long night of waiting, but morning did come, and we continued on the path ahead. Eventually another hiker came along to confirm that we were indeed on the right path, but we still had another few miles to go. When we finally reached the magnificent Colorado River and stood in the resplendent beauty rising around us, our hearts soared with renewed joy.
After spending another night at the campground, we headed back up the canyon confident that we were ready for the challenge. We hiked calmly this time, knowing exactly where we were going, and we kept a slow, measured pace. But the weariness from the hike down combined with the strain of the upward trail began to take their toll. Our stops for rest became longer and more frequent. As the day wore on, we had to confront the fact that we were going to be finishing in the dark once again.
This time the way forward was clear, but the last part of the trail was covered in snow. There were only a few more miles to the top, but they seemed to stretch impossibly upward beyond our bodies’ endurance. It grew later and later, and still we seemed no closer. Our headlamp batteries began to fail. Our food and water were running low. Once again fear stalked along behind us as the darkness closed in.
At one crucial point, I sat down to rest and leaned back into the snow. I could feel a strong urge to drift off to sleep and to surrender to despair. Then I felt Adrian, my youngest son, shaking me saying, “Dad, come on! We gotta keep going like you told us before, one step in front of the other.” His words made it through the fog in my mind, and I stood up once again. When we had lost our strength, we found courage to just keep taking one more step.
Moving forward, however slowly, was our only hope. Step by agonizing step, we finally made our way back to where we could see the lights flickering in the lodges at the top of the South Rim. Relief and wild exhilaration flooded our bodies as we climbed up over those last few hundred yards. At the top we threw our packs down, and our joyful laughter filled the night.
These memories of stumbling into the presence of wonder settle into my heart, and I feel a breath of peace. I do not have answers for all the dark questions that circle around me, and perhaps I am not meant to know them. Sometimes the light is gone, and I must choose life anyway. Maybe these sacred moments—when courage found—me have helped me believe it is possible to find my way again.
Barry Wilder, with his wife and three of their children, have recently moved to Tigard, Oregon, after living for 30 years in Phoenix, Arizona. He works at creating safe places for the wounded to tell their stories and find healing. He also loves the outdoors, roasting coffee beans, and playing chess.