What does it mean that this earth is so beautiful?
What shall I do about it?
What is the gift I should bring to the world?
What is the life I should live?
Last month, these questions flowed through my mind like the Merced River throughout Yosemite Valley. Not just flowing, actually, but flooding. Like the melted snow, these questions were everywhere, impossible to contain.
From our campground, we could hear the boom this water was creating as it crashed at the bottom of Yosemite Falls, but we couldn’t see it or grasp its beauty. At 5am though, we set off on the steep “4-mile hike” and slowly the falls emerged. And then the green (and dying brown) cedar tops, and then El Capitan and Half Dome, and then the entire valley.
My prayer for Ramadan was to see these things in Pakistan: the falls and the cedars and the El Caps that might emerge from the valleys in my own life, my own journey. And in Yosemite, I started wondering: Do I need to find the right “4-mile” path first? Or do I just need to learn how to climb long and high enough on whatever path I’m currently on?
At 10pm, Mom points out the Big Dipper, Krysta looks for the North Star, and Danny reminds us that we are simply looking at history: that we don’t see the North Star as it is but as it was. Thousands of light years ago.
In Greek, the word planet means to wander, and I’m beginning to wonder if I see myself as I am, or as I was.
And yet, Carl Sagan says that dreams are maps, and the visions we offer our children (and ourselves) shape the future. That these visions often become self-fulfilling prophesies.
Where are the cartographers — the map makers — for human purpose? Perhaps, instead of praying for the path, should I be praying to be a cartographer, making the map that might lead to and actually be the future?
At 6am, I leave for a run with Jacqueline, through the El Caps and Half Domes of Perry Street and Soho, along the Hudson and towards the lady of liberty. Like the statue, Jacqueline is a fortitude, a hope, a strength. Her journey with Acumen has been 18+ years. And her pace isn’t slowing down. Instead, she’s creating new maps, and giving each journey the time it needs to be realized.
She says that Jesuits reformed their community over 450 years. The Statue of Liberty has been standing for over 130.
And although Jacqueline has been running along the Hudson since the 90s, she doesn’t hesitate to take a few side streets along the way.
For her, these detours might be a Global Gathering of 300+ fellows in Kenya, or a $100M energy fund in East Africa. For me, it might be launching a podcast on Pakistan entrepreneurship, or supporting a secondary school in a Kasur village.
She says that exploring and understanding these side streets is helpful because it can sustain the journey. And because you never know what you might discover. And yet, there is the danger of getting swept away by the current, of losing sight of the valley.
Back in Yosemite, Krysta and Danny introduce me to a book of poems from Naomi Shihab Nye:
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
And the Mary Oliver questions start booming again, synchronizing with the Yosemite Falls: What does it mean that this earth is so beautiful? What is it that you might do about it? What is the gift you can bring to the world? What is the life you can live?
I’m certainly still struggling with these questions, but I think for me, the answer lies somewhere in between continuing on the long and steep 5am path, looking for the El Caps and Half Domes as they emerge, and creating/living the dream map of possibilities and galaxies and infinities.