I just returned from the Simien Mountains where my soul found the expected respite that has always greeted me when I wander into the mountains. Breathtaking views, playful monkeys, elegant hawks, vibrant flowers, fresh breezes, cleansing rains, and the smell of wild thyme, which speckled the hillsides, were our companions. I found myself wishing I could bottle the smell of the thyme. My virologist friend, who traveled with me, assured me that people are working on making that very thing possible, but the technology just isn’t there yet. Plenty of pictures and videos were taken, but those things never quite capture the entirety of an experience. The physical moment of being present in a place can never be fully detained. Mountains have always played an important role in my life. From family vacations to summer jobs I have sought their company. On the rare occasions when I meditate, I often find myself trying to find my way into the mountains where I am afforded clarity of thought and peace of mind. It’s a place I know well because I have been there often.
During my down time I am reading a book called The Plague by Albert Camus. It is about a small port town in Algeria that is stricken with the plague. At one point in the book, the town’s doctor who is charged with fighting the incurable disease, is listening to the radio and hears the emotional cries of cities and towns, near and far, ringing out their support for those confined within the walls of the town. In response, the doctor’s thoughts point out the great chasm that separates those who are suffering within the city’s walls from those who sit comfortably outside of the sufferers’ world. He speaks of the, “incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering that he cannot see.”
We live in a world filled with suffering. Suffering people can be found in every corner of every place. During my quiet time in the mountains I found myself reflecting on the value of experiences where I have been afforded the opportunity to sit with those who are suffering. In the same way that a picture will never bring me the full experience of sitting on that mountain top, a news story or a book will never tell the whole story of suffering. We are incapable of comprehending suffering from a distance. I have to touch it and smell it in order to recognize its complexity and have my thoughts and actions changed by my encounter with it. Time and space may explain the distance between ourselves and the suffering of the world, but we also have a choice. We can choose to see it, to be affected by it, to be changed by its reality.
My thoughts as I left the mountain were dominated by thankfulness. I am thankful for the opportunity to see not only the suffering but also the incredible resiliency of the people here in Ethiopia. My hope is that my eyes will remain open to both the suffering and resiliency of all those with whom I come into contact, whether half way around the world, or right in downtown Tacoma.