Many thanks to Rachael for the Guest Post today!
About this picture: I got into the Everglades late Friday night so it's a little dark. The Anhinga Trail is beautiful at any time of the day though. I almost stepped on a ~2 year old alligator in the dark as I was walking back. Pond apples, bromeliads, alligators, anhinga (birds), cattails, willows...
I drove to the Everglades this past weekend after the end of a yearlong relationship. I was hoping to do some exploring and create space for introspection alone in a new place for a couple days. I "crashed" in the gazebo of this hostel for the night prior to entering the park. It was a quirky place with Euro travelers, free pancakes in the AM, kayak and canoe rentals, and ancient male hippies wandering the premises in search of free rent/place to pitch their tent in exchange for chores. I strapped a kayak on my rental car in the morning and headed into the park, stopping at the highly trafficked "Robert Is Here" fruit stand in the morning for a famed milkshake (key lime) as a last piece of decadence before a few days of minimalism and solitude in the swampy mangroves.
I only had the weekend, so I put in at the Hell's Bay canoe trailhead and paddled out a few miles to the chickee (a platform over the swamp to camp in the absence of land) I'd reserved in Pearl Bay a few hours later. Surprisingly, I was greeted by a lone, white-haired, sunburned man around my dad's age also staying at the chickee. I was a little annoyed at first as I was the only one registered for that spot and had expected a solo weekend. I was also logically aware of the potential safety issues, low probability as they may be, facing a solo female traveler in the city or a vast swampland when it comes to encounters with other people. I quickly found him to be amazing company, a gracious soul full of eagerness to share his insights after having been diagnosed with a brain tumor a few years ago. One of the first things he said to me with a grin was, "I've learned that the more I give, the more I get back". We paddled further out on the bay until dusk, watching the sunset and talking about life in this otherworldly place so different than the desert and mountains that I call home. In the evening he broke bread with me, happy to share his extra food. He noticed my pause before eating and asked if I wanted to offer a blessing on the food. There was peace in the quiet bay that night, a calm for which I was grateful. Whenever I intend to go out on my own, I feel He lets me be for a short while, but then introduces another soul into my journey unexpectedly that offers some merciful lesson and reminds me of the second great commandment, reflecting the first.
Without too many other commitments to others at this point in my life, I have the opportunity to travel and meet amazing people of different faiths (or none in particular) who are often curious about how I negotiate my heritage, of a Navajo mother, Jewish/Mormon pioneer descended father, and LDS faith, assuming mutual exclusivity. The fact is, my spiritual and cultural identities support one another; they are not fragmented compartments I must reconcile. Sharing this at times makes me realize that we each have unique stories, characteristics, and heritages that can help us each touch different individuals and it seems that perhaps there is great purpose in this design.
I realized after this experience and a shorter but meaningful one the next day with another fellow traveler with whom I fell into company that I was being asked to share what I believe, and I don't feel like I did a good job. I struggled this last week, re-playing what I felt like was an opportunity squandered and wondering how deep my convictions indeed are. I shared facts and details about the history and doctrine, rather than those things that truly compel me, that draw me to the gospel of Jesus Christ: that we have an all-loving, Heavenly Father and a Savior who balanced justice with mercy through the atonement, that we are hear to BECOME, to learn and grow our own relationship with them, which in great part, we learn by loving others; basically the first two commandments. "On this hang all the law and the prophets", and on this should hang all my convictions.