The mountain air was crisp.
It filled my lungs with a clean, invigorating sensation.
I pulled over to a small rural town in Southern Utah after having driven for a few hours watching the sun transform the sky into a brilliant sequence of morning colors. I drove at the speed of molasses and made as many stops as I could, because I didn’t want it to end. How often will I ever get see this kind of portrait-esque imagery again?
The vast deserts.
The towering canyons.
The serene valleys.
The unfamiliar setting not only excited me, but it gave me perspective. One that made me realize how big the rest of the country is, making whatever problems I had back in California seem incredibly small. I made a rash decision to go on a spontaneous road adventure after having found out I landed a dream job. I was ecstatic, but irrationally nervous about my new position.
What if I’m not ready?
I needed to get out and clear my head, and I’ve always wanted to see Salt Lake City, so I set out to cross another American city off my bucket list.
I’ve been thinking about my own mortality a lot lately.
Maybe a little too much.
What if I get hit by a truck or what if I go to sleep and never wake up again?
Will I have accomplished everything I set out to do?
Did I make amends for all the wrongs that I had made?
These things keep me up at night. They keep me restless.
On my last day, I pulled over to this small rural town in Southern Utah, where I saw a fort that looked like it was built during the Civil War. Knowing that my inner history nerd could not resist, I decided to take a break from driving and soak up the small town vibes.
This place looked like it was straight out of a storybook. The grass was freshly cut and impeccably maintained, there was pleasant gospel music playing over an intercom, and the fort was in perfect condition as though it traveled through time from the 1800s without a hitch. It was an awe-inspiring sight to see.
An old man approaches.
He was very tall, he walked with a cane, and he had a big white beard. He says his name is Earl. He offered to be my tour guide and I obliged. Little did I know, as he continued to talk my ear off, that this place turned out to be a Mormon sanctuary, and the fear of potentially being ambushed by religious types attempting to convert me became very overwhelming. I tried to map out an escape plan in my head, but he was just so kind that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so we pressed on. Funny enough, his stories got more and more interesting. As we took a stroll through the fort, he showed me the way the first Mormon settlers used to live back in the day when they had to churn butter, ride horses, and fight off invaders who tried to take over the fort.
It sounded like “Little House on the Prairie.”
As we arrived to the last room of the fort, Earl describes this room as a place where sick people from out of town would stay during their travels. There was a much higher mortality rate back then, so these people often never recovered from their ailments. I was so caught up in the backstory and novelty of the tour, that I didn’t register right away that Earl had began to weep. I felt awkward and didn’t know how to respond, but he recovered fairly quickly.
Afterwards, we stood in a magnificent barn the size of a church. I take in the awesome scenery. Earl chokes up again.
I ask him, “Is everything okay, Earl?”
Earl replies, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately.”
Earl collects himself and laments, “I’m going through chemotherapy right now and I don’t know how much longer I have on this Earth.”
I was so deeply saddened. I just met this man a few minutes ago, but I could feel his anguish, his agony in not knowing whether or not he had a tomorrow.
I drove away in deep contemplation. Thinking about how a complete stranger had affected my entire day.
Earl gave me a bible with these departing words: “I’m glad I got to meet you today.”
The first half of 2017 has been one of the worst periods of my life. I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of thinking about it. If someone could just “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” my brain from the memories of the past six months, I would be so grateful. However, life has a funny way of testing our will.
This soul searching trip has showed me that I am not special. That anything I do or achieve is not special. I project meaning onto meaningless things. We live in such a bubble that we amplify everything to the point where we genuinely believe that we deserve to be the at the center of the entire universe’s attention.
Earl taught me how to have courage under fire.
No matter what Earl was going through, he did his job with a smile and an overall zest for life. He preached his faith and greeted everyone with a friendly disposition. I learned so much through our brief encounter. Whatever life throws at us, we can either lie down or press on, and seeing Earl press on with every last bit of his will is a testament to the human spirit, and it made me want to do the same as well.
It’s funny how I’ve been thinking about the direction of my life and its inevitable mortality, and it took a dying old man to show me that there’s still so much life left to be lived. I was not expecting that from this road trip. All I wanted to do was escape the fog of my mind and hit the reset button...but there is no such thing as a reset, restart, or reboot button for your life. Only owning up to your past and moving forward with grace.
Earl and I may not have shared the same religious beliefs, but we do share the same belief for life and humanity.
I hope you find your way, Earl, because you helped me find the way back to mine.