I sat alone in the cable car and suddenly started to talk out loud to myself. “I have no idea what is happening next, in any facet of my life. All I know is where I have been and where I am right now.” This comes out as almost a nervous chant, a reassurance to myself as I stand on the edge of the abyss. Never before have I felt as aimless, as misdirected. My paths have always been clear. Now all I know is what is right in front of me: the Great Wall of China.
I pass group after group of tourists on a pilgrimage, as I am. Whether to tick something off the bucket list, learn more about Chinese history, or try to put their own lives and concerns into perspective, we are all dumfounded by the massive amounts of stone and memory in front of us.
I haven’t been this cold in weeks. I’m bundled in three tops, two pairs of pants, a puffy white coat, a sarong I’ve fashioned into a scarf, a homemade hat, and mismatched globes. But I step on the stone, lay my hands on the wall, and will my shivers (and the memory of past shivers) to temporary stillness. I am here.
As I walk, I shed item after item of clothing as my mind sinks deeper into reflection. It’s almost required in a place such as this, deep in the Chinese mountainside.
I have my own “great walls.” At this moment, I have those emotional and mental blockades preventing me from reaching through to the other side. Whether these blocks are protecting me or imprisoning me, I don’t know. What is on the other side, I don’t know.
Now I sit directly on the wall, the mid-day sun warming my knees. It’s an astonishingly clear day: a bit of irony to this clouded mind. I’m sitting on this solid reminder of past, present, and future, as I contemplate my history, stumble through my days, and try to map what’s next.
There is no map. There is not even a cartographer who can assist me. The stretch of stone path in front of me is all I have.