I rafted through the Grand Canyon when I was 18 years old and I was lost. I was restless, haunted by a future of uncertainty and too many possibilities, so I set off to try to find myself in one of the few places untouched and untarnished by humankind and our impurities.
My dog died 2 days before I left and I didn’t even cry. And all I could think of when I embarked on this journey was if it would change me, at all, even a little bit. I wasn’t asking to learn the meaning of life. But would it take away the hollowness, fill a hole and an emptiness I had had inside of me for a long time? Would it make me feel the way I felt when I was 10 years old and watched the sun rise out the plane window over Africa and first truly believed in God?
My eight-day rafting trip down the Colorado River did all of this and more. Something that had long been a dream of mine changed my life in ways I hadn’t even anticipated.
Because when you fall asleep at night under a billion stars, on rocks that are a million years old, with people you have nothing in common with besides the pure unadulterated fact that you are all witnessing the beginnings of time, you don’t remember. You are there to witness something so much greater than yourself, and you feel prehistoric, and you forget.
You forget the hollowness and monotony of life that you so fear, the existential crises that plague you in your sleep. You forget that your best friend died a week ago and you didn’t cry. You forget writing love letters to yourself, and the boy who played you Bob Dylan songs on his record player. You forget hiding under the bleachers in elementary school and the shame of your past and how that one boy no longer loved you.
What you remember is the purest of times. The sunrise out of the plane window on your way to Africa multiplied by a million. For a full eight days, it was that sunrise over a foreign land, and believing in God, and the ambition to do something beautiful with strangers from across the country and colossal red rocks. Nothing can touch you except the soul of the sublunary world and the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to. You believe that even if you die rafting through that rapid, you will do it feeling pure and unbroken, and truly alive for the first time.
You will lie under those stars every night, and you will cry. But not because you are broken, like any of the other times you cried. You will cry because you finally feel the extent of how beautiful life can be; you have the capacity to love it as much as everyone else.
If you ever have the opportunity to, or the means to, I urge you to visit the Grand Canyon. And not just view it from the top of the South Rim, like so many others do on their road trips across the West — don’t just stop for a day, take some photos, buy some souvenirs, and leave. Really visit it; spend a week in the Canyon’s depths and caverns, sleeping on sand that has been formed over centuries, being born again as you bathe in the pure, icy blue of the Colorado River. Get to know her crevices and caves, the texture of her rock, the location of her hidden waterfalls and beaches. Feel the power and soul of mile-high walls.
I may make it sound in this like I know everything, and I apologize if I come off as trying to be profound or dramatic, or as if I know anything about anything. The truth is that I am almost 20 years old and I know nothing at all about life. But I do know this: “Grand” is the understatement of the century for the Grand Canyon. It is beautiful, and it changed me. I am young and I am stupid, and I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I seek and where my place is in the world; but the Canyon — an inanimate object, yet somehow alive — has helped me immensely along that path, both in understanding who I am and how I feel and what is important in life.
So I urge you, go to the Canyon. If you ever have the chance, take it. Go. It is a spiritual and metamorphic experience, and will help you understand who you want to be and where you want to go in life. Your time spent down in the Canyon will change your life in ways you will never expect. I truly believe this. One day, years and years after visiting this holy gorge, you will do something kind and generous for a stranger, or something unselfish or brave for society. And it will be not only because the Canyon changed the way you look at the world, but it has changed you deep down inside. You will feel it in your bones.