Let me tell you a story. A travel story.
In 2003, I was teaching Spoken English in a tiny city called Lianyungang, China.
It was the first time I was in a foreign country. Living by myself. Teaching a language I wasn’t confident speaking. And had narrowly escaped the confines of a Chinese prison. (A story for another day)
I was lost. Lonely. Confused.
Then, one evening, the Mayor invited me for dinner. In China, all business runs on guanxi – relationships. Deals are hardly stuck in boardrooms. But in noisy restaurants, over raucous drinking matches.
The Mayor wanted me to play host to an Indian businessman from Beijing for a lucrative contract. In China, you can’t obviously say no to the government.
So, I went. To the dinner to meet this businessman in his late 40s. Then, the next day, we went to see the Flower & Fruit Mountain along with a simpering entourage whose only job was to keep this man happy.
I tagged along, getting into the cable car. I didn’t particularly like the man. The conversation was stilted. We reached the summit.
Pause, here, reader.
And come with me. I invite you to imagine this.
I step out. Climb the few stairs to the top. And I turn where the mountain curves, and then I see it.
Snow. The summit clad in fresh snow. The trees bending over with its weight. White everywhere. I had never seen snow. This white landscape.
This world that begs us to consider its beauty.
I go down on my knees, remove my gloves, and sink my hands into the softness of snow. I watch as the snow meets heat and melts. A graceful end. But such beauty while it lasts. Such dignity in its end. It doesn’t hurt in the leaving. It just melts away.
For the first time, my heart lifts. There’s this beauty, I realize. All the time. Gasping beauty. The Indian takes a few photos of me in the snow and promises to scan them and send them to me later. I never get those photos.
But it doesn’t matter. That moment, that memory, has never melted away. I smell the cold air even now. I can feel my boots crunching through the snow. The frosted stars of snow, sharing their fragile vulnerability with me.
A moment crystallized in time. That one moment made me think of living. Again and again.
And that’s the thing: you are always one moment away from seeing the surreal beauty of this world. Our souls may always bang ugly reminders, hoot stark shouts of despair, burn embers of pain, clutch shards of hurt, and blind us with darkness.
It’s okay. That’s survival.
This is living.
All it takes is one moment.
To turn and see that there’s a yawning, gawking world of love.
We can choose to survive, or we can choose to burn burn burn gloriously, marching through the snow to live.
I hope you will, if you can, choose to live. Gloriously. Be alive with all that the world offers you.