There is a place where dreams are born and return to die. Puffy clouds caress its snowcapped peaks. Stars dance across its night sky. Each day has a spectacular sunrise and sunset. Here in DreamLand—amidst rocks, icy streams, stately pine trees, and noble wildlife—people like us connect with the source. Come there with me now. A story wants to be heard.

In the Rocky Mountain National Park, at a place called the Pool. Atop a bridge made of rough-hewn logs. I watch the Big Thompson River find its way along the steep rock walls that define this place.

I think about the river’s origin. High up on the western side of the park, east of the continental divide. Where Terra Tomah and Sundance mountains intersect and the headwaters of the river reside. There, fed by snowmelt and overflow from nearby lakes, the river goes forth. Rushing downward along sculpted mountainsides, hurrying through carved-out canyons.

Downstream, five miles or so, the river encounters the Pool. There, it begins slowly encircling itself. With each loop, the rush and hurry of the river give way to depth and reflectivity. Every lap becomes a silent tribute to the Pool’s transformative power.

While the Pool has its way with the river, my thoughts turn to the Heartland, home of my headwaters. Where backyards are ball fields, trees wait climbing, doors have no locks, and cornrows go on forever. How from there, my loving parents, and the good people of Corydon, Iowa sent me forth with aspirations born of blanket forts, campouts, and vacation bible school. Filled with dreams. Fueled by hope. Seeking a future jam-packed with service and accomplishment.

Now, here at the Pool my mind begins circling itself. Ever-tightening laps give rise to thoughts about how, between the then of my headwaters and the now of the Pool, disappointment dampened my aspirations. Despair displaced my hope. Realities of the present burst apart my dreams of the there and then.

The loops of my mind join those of the river in the Pool. Creating a reflection of my face on its glassy surface. As I look at my mirrored image, tears moisten my eyes. Squinting, I see wrinkles of despair. Mouth edges pulled downward by long-since-passed realities. Neck and shoulders stooped from the weight of disappointment, frustration, and regret.

I think about how, battered, disfigured, and disenchanted from the trail-of-my-life, I retired here to the Colorado Mountains. Wanting to be alone. Trying to forget the past. Seeking to find solace in solitude of the tundra. Communing with trees and wildlife. My once busy days now filled with meandering hikes along rock-strewn trails to remote destinations, such as the Pool.

I look at the reflection. It looks at me. In an instant we both realize that despite the affordances of the mountains, the pain of the past still haunts me. At this insight, a Breeze ruffles across the Pool. Erasing the reflection, she whispers, “Deeper Mark Edward, look deeper. Seek the source of your pain.”

Heeding the Breeze’s admonishment, I peer into pool. There I see images of every person who ever hurt or wronged me. To them, I say, “Why me? Didn’t I deserve better?”

Words barely away from my lips, the Breeze again ruffles across the Pool. Her ruffling is more forceful than the last time. She says, “Deeper, Mark Edward. You must go deeper.”

At that, shapes swirling beneath the pool’s surface become visible. I see them for what they are, the shadows of my life. Indignities I felt. Wrongs I received. Sorrow from opportunities pursued but not realized. Regrets about offices not sought, work not finished, and friendships offered but rejected. The words of love, acceptance, and appreciation that I so longed to hear, but never did. The son I wanted, who never came.

The shadows—so raw and unresolved—bring me low. I feel mortal, as though my time has run out. Is this my last stand? What comes next—Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or diabetes?

Tears flow freely for dreams unrealized and aspirations thwarted. Their saltiness burns my eyes and stings my cheeks. I say, “Oh merciful and compassionate God—end my suffering.” My plea gets no response. Again, I cry out, “Do not forsake me. God take away my suffering.” Granted no reprieve, spent and hopeless I collapse on the bridge. In my blob-like-emotional state, I hear the Breeze say, “Look inside, Mark Edward. Your pain comes from within.”

With that, my insides start churning. Thoughts arise of all the people I hurt in pursuit of the dreams born in my heartland. Memories of times, when in the zeal of aspiration, I was jealous, envious, or petty. The ways I ruthlessly betrayed, mistreated, or neglected colleagues, friends, family-members, and bystanders. Their screams, moans, and cries now reverberate in my head. Guilt overcomes me. Things go blank.

I have no idea how much time passes, but some time later, the shaking of my body wakens me. Weak and confused, I look around. Noticing that the bridge on which I stand is dry. However, my clothes, skin, and hair are wet. My body shivers to stave off hypothermia.

The river and pool are mostly dark. Lit only by a star reflecting on their waters. Looking up, I see the star is Polaris, the North Star. In her light, I get some food and dry clothes from my backpack. I replace wet clothes with dry ones. Eat two Odwalla bars. Sip some Gatorade. Then, warmed and fed, I place my wet clothes on the handrails of the bridge.

As my energy returns, I think about this day. How, I, like the river, was sent forth into the world from a headwater. To hike a path that is sometimes perilous. Unaware that my response to perils, not the perils, will define me, determine what I accomplish, and where I end up. I think about how I wish I had known, when I left the headwaters of the Heartland, that dreams and aspirations are not free. They have costs. That actions taken along the way, incur tolls. The pain I distribute in a dream’s pursuit, eventually pursues the distributor.

Looking around, I understand that this is the lesson the Breeze has been trying to teach me. That being here—in the mountains, at the Pool, with the river—came at tremendous cost to me, people who love me, and countless others. How, I would not be here had I had no pain and suffering, only success. That teachers and guides, such as the Breeze, help me withstand the pain and realize that suffering shapes my character, gives me depth.

With this a feeling of lightness washes over me. I grab a piece of my wet clothing. Holding it over the Pool, I wring it with both hands. Murky droplets fall toward the Pool. Each droplet accepted by the Pool releases a putrid smell of pain, disappointment, and despair.

Transformation complete, pain gone, I recalibrate my internal compass against the constancy of the North Star. With a sense of purpose renewed by her assurances of love and value, I don my backpack. Then, step on the trail. Humbled from facing my pain. Liberated from understanding its source. Compassionate from knowing the pain of living connects all things. A promise in my heart to aid all travellers I encounter. Guided by a moonbeam, I step lively along the trail of life.

Mark Edward

This post is in remembrance of my mother, Murrell Virginia Weston. To whom I am eternally grateful for instilling within me a deep appreciation of the subtleties of life.

Note: This is the first post in the DreamLand series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts in this and other series.


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