[Today's Reverb10 prompt is as follows: Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors.]
It began with exhileration. Look, there—I am glowing, eager, ready to begin the high hike ahead.
People filled my path. The heavy heave of breath and bodies pushing on. A dampness on my brow, dew atop a thin line of perspiration. The wet, heady scent of trees and moss and late-morning humidity. A small boy crying, wanting someone to carry him. Grandmothers sitting out the next stairway leading up, up, up.
It seemed, I admit, never-ending. And, in some ways, it was. After all, some journeys have no final destination.
But on I climbed, taking long, slow, yoga-like inhalations of air as I conquered step after step. I passed couples, groups of children, old men carrying canes. I passed beggars. I wove my way through crowds of bored teens, searching for cell service on their iPhones. The flash of camera bulbs stopped me, more than once. I waved a good-bye to my travel partner, who waved me onward, recognizing the gleam of determination in my eye.
And by the time I had reached an open, empty stretch, my legs shook with exertion and excitement.
I had climbed so high, so carefully, so patiently and slowly and thoughtfully, and all on my own. I had left my companion and my fellow travelers and the screaming children and the chasing parents all behind me, in my wake.
I was alone, atop the Great Wall of China.
Although I grew up in a home built in 1785—although I grew up visiting old, historical sites such as Gettysburg’s battle fields, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and Massachusett’s Plymouth Rock—although I have wandered through graveyards with tombstones dating back to the early 1600s—nothing, nothing, could prepare me for the sense of age and history and death and life and prominence that I felt standing on that quiet stretch of Wall.
A cool and chilling breeze kept me company as I walked, taking each step with great care, wanting to keep as still as I could, while moving, crawling inch by inch, forward along the stones. I paused, staring out over the cloud-coated hills, my heart pounding, my fingers trembling. A hundred thoughts: who all had walked here before me? How many had died either building or defending these heights? Which men and women had these walls protected or kept out? How can I feel so big, so gloriously, wonderfully, radiantly alive, while still recognizing how small I really am, in the grand scheme of things, in this grand, great place?
We are, each, so very big, so very small.
A hundred thoughts; thousands of footsteps; roughly 5,500 miles of magnitude.
And a little lady, who kept me company along the way.
The Great Wall of China left me breathless, teary, positively overcome with emotion. To stand still in a place of such significance, in the hushed and humid cool of one, priceless, captured moment, and to be there alone, with nothing but my own breath and heartbeat, if only for a few minutes, before the next wave of tourists marched on by, is a memory I will never forget.
It is a memory I am blessed to have.
That gray, misty morning in northern China caught me in the fascinating fist of history. It is a grip I still cannot, and hope never to, loosen.