When we arrived at the top I heard no words. I heard air rushing into lungs. I heard "hhhhhhhhhhhh!!" and "ohhhhhhhhhhhhh" and then--
Some stood for a time; others sat. Eventually, every one of us had settled into a place. And there we were silent for almost five minutes. Ten if you count the slow, individual ascents to the rock.
There is rarely silence among gathered people--especially in this raucous group. We are not engineered to sit together and not speak. It felt like a miracle walking a tightrope. The slightest sway and *poof* into a cloud of dreams.
It started at the base of the climb through the forest: we could hear a congo or howler monkey up in the trees above us right about where the rock is. As we entered the woods and continued upward, it became clear to all that treading lightly might just keep him in range of sight once we got closer. As we neared the rock the howls grew in intensity until we were nearly directly under the ruckus. We quietly scaled the face that opens up to a massive view of San Ramón and the Central Valley. Once above, we seemed to have forgotten the congo and perhaps the beast itself recognized the delicateness of the moment.
We stood and sat gawking at the breadth of what lie before us. Five weeks of families, parties, Imperial, classes, friends, and what certainly had become our home was there down below in a living postcard. A melancholy, beauty, victory, saudade of place. It felt like a mini, unspoken goodbye. We were far enough removed to be able to look at it for what it was, a small place we had come to love and now must leave shortly, yet close enough to see it alive in the way we know it to be.
One of the students remarked: "The clouds move slowly up here." I would respond that they always move slowly if we're paying the right kind of attention. And that, in a whisper, is the deep truth of this place, of what coming here means, of what travel is and can show us, of what I really mean by "new air".
At home we don't often look closely at the clouds and we don't often breathe the air with intention. We live expecting that we will see only what we have always seen and nothing more. But, transported to a new environment we see the same world through new lenses. We don't merely see, we look. We don't only hear, we listen. We try to find what it is that makes this newness so palpable when it is, after all, just other faces with eyes-nose-mouth, other buildings of concrete, other smokey tail pipes. The clouds are moving the same speed they always do; it's us that have slowed down.
The reality behind it is that all the wonder of new air, new people, new ways of life is a fallacy. None of it is new in this place. Only we are. I like to think that some of this is what was dawning on us during those silent minutes.
Praise God for when words become unnecessary.