We are back in this old house after a six-day road trip through the Southwest. Even though this old house is only about 1300 sf, it feels huge after a series of motel rooms! We were primarily headed to the Grand Canyon with stops at Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Rock Art Ranch, and Canyon de Chelley. It was a birthday celebration for me as well as a chance to see some amazing petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (ancient rock art paintings). In reading further about these mysterious carvings in the rock that various people groups did over a period of several centuries, I learned that these figures, some recognizable, some not, were, among other things, ways of saying “We were here.” Not that much different than modern day graffiti in some ways.
Today, these sites are considered sacred by the descendents of these various people groups. There is some debate as to whether the rock art figures were considered sacred when they were created. Some archeologists, tribal and otherwise, feel they may have been more like our newspapers or a map of where water sources were. Some may have been recording a person’s dream or vision. Whatever the reason, people in the past took time and energy to chisel out or paint these figures, some in very hard-to-get-to places. These ancient people wanted to leave a record of some kind for someone else to find.
Standing in the canyon at Rock Art Ranch outside of Winslow, Arizona, I was caught by the natural beauty of the place. I could understand why ancient people utilized the cool water and shade the canyon provides from the blazing desert sun. There are a gazillion canyons in the Four Corners area of the USA (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). Not every canyon has rock art in it. Why were they so prolific in the Rock Art Ranch canyon and not someplace else? What message were they trying to tell others when they climbed way up some of the walls and chiseled intricate figures and designs? What message were they trying to tell themselves?
All of this got me thinking. This is a “big” birthday for me, one of those that makes me stop and reflect on the passing of time in deeper ways. I am aware that I have far fewer years left on earth than I have already lived. Seeing those rock art figures made me wonder what kind of mark I am leaving that says “I was here.” Sure, I have written books, borne children, had good friendships and creative work. I have also done things I wish could be erased from my life. Do any of the petroglyphs or pictographs record a confession of a misdeed? Or were they an ancient form of Facebook where only the successful hunts were shared with others?
The question became for me: What will last from my life? Or will it, and I, completely disappear in the distance of time, someday to be forgotten by all? My Christian faith says no, from an eternal perspective, but from an earthly perspective, I have to recognize that even my journals and books will someday be forgotten, discarded, disintegrate as did the many broken pottery shards I saw, forever disconnected from their original whole.
This can be kind of gloomy language around a birthday, a milestone age many of the ancient peoples never lived long enough to see. Yet, reflecting on what is meaningful, long-lasting, worthy of focusing on is a good thing to do as I begin the last section of my life. It is time to discard people and things that are life-draining and focus more on that which is life-giving. It is a time to reflect on the “carvings” that are on my soul. Experiences and words leave lasting impressions on our lives. If my soul were a rock, what has been chiseled into it, painted onto it? And what is the message those carvings have for me as I flip the calendar on a new decade?