Just about a year ago, my daughters and I spent a long afternoon in Hovenweep National Monument, in Utah. Even now, the sound of that name – Hovenweep – makes me want to press my fingers over my face. We sat under a slatted aluminum covering over a picnic table, unable to stir out into the heat, unwilling even to walk a short distance to what I imagined was the edge of a canyon. By this point in the summer, we had traveled thousands of miles, slept in many different places, and trod the gamut of human emotion. Hovenweep become our literal edge of the world, the place where, when you get there, you can no longer admire the abyss of the canyon.
All afternoon, under a broiling sun, my daughters and I sat beneath that crude cheap covering, playing Hearts, playing Yahtzee, the girls eating Nutella so hot it dripped from a spoon. We were waiting for a particular person to either appear, or not. As we waited, I watched a storm cloud in the distance, so far away in that eternal Utah horizon. Would it mass over us and rain?
The drama of our little family unspun that afternoon in an immense landscape of dust and small pebble and a few sprigs of sage, a land of no rain. I believed I could walk all day long in that desert, and, at the end of the day, I could still look back and see where I had begun. Hovenweep is a territory of stunning high desert beauty, and yet inescapably saturated with the crumbling, inexplicable ruins of the past. All that afternoon, filled with trepidation, anger, grief, I sensed the vast watchfulness of that place; how many, many women must have lived in that dry land, with joy surely, and surely also with terror for themselves and their children, as their demise reared up, with neither cheap shade nor nutella.
How much I would have liked to have seen one of my sisters from long ago that afternoon, a woman who might have known how things break apart. Who might have understood how I look at my daughters with mine, mine in my eyes. Who might have offered me her hand, as I would have toward her.
This is what human beings have felt from the beginning of time. If you want to be a full, complete human being, if you want to be genuine and not pretend that everything is either one way or the other way you can hold the fullness of life in your heart….