By Megan SutherlandGazing at the Joshua Trees through the dusty passenger window, a serene air came over me. The monkey chatter of my exhausted analytical mind slowed down to a honey-like flow. Watching the desert shapes flood past the window, the mascara of toxic smog & city grime masking my third eye peeled away. All first-world woes had been removed, and I could finally relax into the ease and clarity of the arid Mars-esque climate around us. “Doesn’t Mars have plant life,” I thought.
Oddly enough, the pilot of our ship (or shall I say Prius) happened to be a botanist. He was in kinetic conversation with others filling our Prius as I was quietly hypnotized by the uncanny figures of Yucca Brevifolia (a.k.a. Joshua Trees), which looked like set pieces dropped off of a Star Wars film. Noticing my state of awe, our botanist kindly chimed in with some facts about this alien-like plant life and their symbolism as we embarked on our esoteric weekend adventure.
He conveyed that this desert tree is native to the southwestern states of California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, where it is confined mostly to the Mojave Desert. It’s predicted that they will be extinct by the end of the 21st century. These mysterious plants have held the test of time ’til now, and due to climate change they are most likely to become fossilized under the same sun that gave them life.
From this newfound knowledge, a deep appreciation resonated for these abstract trees, and further fueled my conviction that “nothing is permanent— change is the only constant.” Albeit a somewhat cynical perspective toward life and relationships, this point of view struck me like lightning, and has only become reinforced with time. “What would be left behind when I passed?” I pondered. “Would I merely be a fossil like those slowly withering trees?”
Winding down dirt roads laced with tumbleweeds and sprinting jack rabbits, the sun set on the high desert. The abundance of stars in the rural sky replaced the city’s omnipresent Wifi connection. At first I desperately longed for my beloved (and equally loathed) portal to social media mayhem; but then I realized I would be forced to either twiddle my thumbs or direct my attention to the raw and uncut world around me. I would be free of all actions associated with millennial life 2.0: staring, swiping, dissecting, deleting, adding, and uploading all on my neon screen of a filtered-down digital reality. A weekend completely sans phone was just what the doctor prescribed (with the exception of taking a few snapshots, of course). Aside from the coyote howls in the distance, time stood still and things got very quiet.
In the stillness of this land, we met our first guru of the journey. Although she is not a self-proclaimed guru, I feel there are gurus all around us if we choose to listen. This siren of a woman was statuesque, rough around the edges, and yet gazelle like in her sway. Let’s just call her Fiona…
A muse and lyrical poet, Fiona free-styled in a raspy, velvety voice about her Algerian ancestors, karma and connecting to the Earth. She summoned the attention of her listeners as her words emanated an enchanting feminine rhythm. It appeared as if her voice was attached to an invisible string connected to her hips which flowed to the lyrics in effortless unison, creating a perfect circular motion. Her presence struck a chord in me, bringing me back to pondering my previous mind-quest for what truly fucking matters in life. From her transparency and warmth it was clear she had reached some sort of peace of mind and bliss within the confines of her own skin. In that space, she shared with me something deeply profound from her passing elder.
Fiona’s grandfather had lived a long and fulfilling life. He was one of the architects of the original internet (where hopefully someone is reading this today), and yet he still managed to create a huge loving family to continue his legacy. On his deathbed all of the generations of children and grandchildren sat around him to say goodbye and hear his last words. He had only one statement, which simply was, “Don’t chase rainbows. The relationships you have while you are on this planet are all that really matter.”
At first I thought to myself, “that makes no sense.” Rather, the old man’s words reminded me of the lyrics to a TLC song. With a few more glasses of wine and far too much to think that night, I gave my best to capture what perhaps this beloved patriarch meant by “rainbows” that clearly we millennials are foolishly searching for.
Perhaps Fiona’s grandfather was referring to the countless projections on my not-so-sacred cell phone and lifeless laptop that I regularly stare at. He could see me and my generation yearning for material things online and lusting over people and products and ideals and illusions that, like a rainbow, would only appear for a short moment, never to be truly obtained. As beautiful and colorful as these digital visions may appear, in the end they are fantasies that lead to suffering. I then thought that at least non-metaphorical rainbows are real and natural, to which chasing (as absurd as it sounds) would be smarter than living on the internet.
With a constant flood of knowledge and a barrage of paths to choose from, this inevitable cyber-fueled “change” that is part of our life’s course is being sped-up to a rate that inhibits our ability to unplug from technology, check in with nature, and connect with each other. Furthermore, why would anyone settle or commit to anything, even life partners, when something newer, faster, better is just a swipe away? Speed date, crash diet, rent it out, or trade it in. Musical chairs entertained us as children and we seem to take this approach throughout life. Growth and evolution is a given; but how can we create something truly bigger than ourselves if we move too fast to nurture it?
On the return to civilization, I was left with two pieces of wisdom. I realized that, like Socrates, I really don’t know anything. I was also left with something more practical that answered my initial question, “what would be left behind when I passed?” This latter point I’ve decided to adopt as my primary guidance to live by for age 30 and beyond:
Life’s success lives in the relationships we cultivate, and is measured in how we love. Bank accounts will be dissolved, cars will break down, the web will crash… but family roots, integrity and one’s personal road of life will remain.
The family and friends I’ve loved along the way will carry my torch in a way no material thing or fleeting online exchange ever could. Without sacrifice and work (fueled by love), any personal gain is simply fast food for the soul. Not sure about you all, but I’d like to leave a legacy in how deeply I’ve loved. I’d like to leave an everlasting mark in the age of temporary.