Mountain Monuments

We pause with a friendly goat at the Cheyenne Zoo.

It was the summer of 1995 and I took a group of youth to Colorado Springs for a retreat. We drove from Muncie to the Mountains and it was an amazing trip.

During our brief stay in the most beautiful state of the Union, we crammed in as many opportunities as possible, including horseback riding in the Garden of the Gods, whitewater rafting through the Royal Gorge, visiting the Cheyenne Zoo, and of course,  a visit to the top of Pike’s Peak, where even in the middle of summer, there remained a layer of heavy snow covering the 14,000 foot mountain top.

The drive across Kansas was hauntingly beautiful.

As we stepped out of the cog rail car we were dizzy with excitement (or a lack of oxygen). We ran around the viewing area throwing snowballs and having a great time together. Soon the cold became too much for many, who soon went inside the visitor’s center to get some hot chocolate. But three of us remained in the cold to continue taking in the view. We realized this was an important moment. We were three Indiana residents who’d never been this high in our entire lives. We stood at the edge of the Rockies, moved in our hearts and souls.

The cold on the mountain wasn’t to everyone’s liking.

We stood in silence, trying to take in the scope of what we were seeing, trying to understand the vast expanse before us. After a time, I broke the silence by asking what they were thinking and how they felt in that moment. Very soon we were talking as men do in those rare moments of true honesty.

We spoke of our feelings of awe, how we felt incredibly small in that moment. The world was so much bigger than we understood. We were nothing in comparison to this landscape…and yet, we were everything to the world and to one another and to the day-to-day life happenings at sea level. Life was not perfect. Our relationships were flawed. There was pain in our hearts and in our community. But we could be agents of change. We could stand together.

It’s all fun and games until someone falls off the merry-go-round.

After several minutes we agreed that this was a powerful moment in our lives, and one that should not be forgotten. We determined to mark the occasion as they did in the Old Testament of the Bible by erecting a monument to the moment. A marker would be our reminder. And so we gathered stones and stacked them, one on top of another. We raised our Ebenezer, our stone of help, as a reminder of the fact that in all of life’s trials, pain, and suffering, we are not alone in the fight. We were not alone in the battle. We had our faith in a higher power; one who could create this majestic vista. We also had one another.

A young man of character and substance.

I doubt that twenty-years later the rock monument still stands; after all, the winds on the mountain are ferocious and the snow piles deep. But my memory of that moment remains: Three young men, black and white, standing together, understanding even if only for a few minutes that the problems of the world are huge and our ability to change them are limited, but our unity in the fight is core to our success.

We stood united around that pile of rocks. Not for a particular cause, or in the face of a specific injustice, but for the purpose of unity itself. It was a mountain moment that speaks to me to this day…perhaps more so today.

I believe we could all benefit from a mountain moment in which we gain a different perspective and unite for the greater good.

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