Seeing the “Endlessly Precious”

Sometimes amazing things happen. As I was getting ready to leave New Camaldoli Hermitage, a kind staff member recommended driving north a few miles before returning home because Big Sur is mostly empty right now.

After some hesitation I realized I would likely never have this stretch of coastline to myself in quite the same way as on this Monday afternoon with the main road, Highway 1, still closed to through traffic in both directions because of mudslides.

Heading toward a famous waterfall, I saw an incredibly large bird in the sky and pulled over, hoping it was a condor. As I walked toward a clearing, it came swooping by, soaring out over the ocean, and was soon joined by a second condor flying in those graceful circles over land and sea. A couple of times they came so close overhead that I could hear their wings and read the number on the tags biologists use to track all California condors.

When a bird with a ten-foot wingspan beats his wings as he—or she—passes overhead and you hear a sound you’ve never heard before and may never again, the magnificence of life makes itself felt. But if we choose to, we can live awestruck at life on a daily basis.

It’s easier to have our breath taken away when the beauty and ruggedness of the world are pressing in on us, and we need those encounters with wildness. At the same time, we can remember that something amazing is always happening.

As my friend said about her growing puppy, how does her paw know to make more paw? Though we can explain the molecular and cellular processes to answer that question, the explanation in no way diminishes the wonder that it happens, that RNA exists at all much less differentiates hair cells from muscle cells and puts them in the right place. And how astonishing that we can know these microscopic processes.

Living in wonder is a matter not only of taking the time to drive north and pull over to the side of the road but also of recognizing that every moment is as sacred as the ones spent with the condors. “There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious,” says Abraham Heschel in The Sabbath: its meaning for modern man.

It’s so, so easy to forget what we’ve been given, but every tick of the clock is another chance to remember and rejoice.

5 thoughts on “Seeing the “Endlessly Precious”

  1. “…if we choose to, we can live awestruck at life on a daily basis.” Yes! Fab! Let’s do it. Thank you.

  2. That must have been an awe inspiring sight, just you and the condors on Hwy 1. I intend to spend some time up there again before year’s end. Hopefully you can join me for a long hike along the road.
    Your experience reminds me of the powerful and uplifting effect the encounter with other life forms can have. Sunim’s retreat residence is located in the foothills of the Angeles mountains overlooking the Antelope valley. The place has an austere beauty, Joshua tree high desert rockiness. But I cannot help but think that the Antelope valley it overlooks once, not too long ago, was home to herds of 10’s of thousands of antelopes. Now it is a rather bleak, lifeless desert landscape with tract homes and electrical towers. I can only imagine the experience of seeing this valley overflowing and moving with life. An aspect of creation that has been lost and forgotten and we are much the poorer for it.

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