The mountain, I learned, had a sad and unfortunate past. There was this cycle it continually went through. Over and over and over again.
Sometimes it only took a few years. If the mountain was lucky, it might be decades.
The ending, however, was always the same.
First came the smell of smoke. Then, perhaps, a few screams, or a siren. Soon, the flames would arrive. And then, in a matter of days (or hours), came death.
* * *
Once I met a guy who used to cut himself.
I hadn’t known him all that long when I first heard him tell his story. Still, it was the last thing in the world I’d expected him to say.
We have five senses for a reason, I think. Seeing a thing is entirely different than hearing about it.
The icy sensation that ran down my spine as he rolled up his long-sleeve shirt and held out his palm for everyone to look at- that was something I probably won’t ever forget.
* * *
I was reading one of those posts- the ones the National Park Service decided to place along every hiking trail on the continent as a way of making your hiking experience educational.
That was where I learned about Table Rock’s depressing history.
It was also, I think, where my understanding of beauty first took on a slightly different meaning.
* * *
I was thinking about the long-sleeve shirt- the one my friend rolled up, exposing the wounds from a dark past.
That’s what I would have worn, too, probably. I would have definitely worn a long-sleeve shirt. Yes. But my sleeve would have stayed down. I wouldn’t have rolled it up. I most certainly wouldn’t have held out my palm for the world to see. No.
But Andy did roll up his sleeve.
And what I saw when he did…
* * *
The post continued.
I kept on reading, and what I read surprised me.
It said that the pine tree I saw a few feet away- the same kind of pine tree that covered the whole top of Table Rock- had an unusual way of reproducing.
Its cones contained seeds, just like any other pine cone. The difference was that these seeds remained entrapped in the cone for years and years, unable to reach soil and to take root like the seeds of all other pine cones.
They remained in this indefinite, and potentially infinite, state of waiting, with only one means of escape.
The only way they were ever released, it said, was by fire.
* * *
Today, my friend Andy is a lot like one of those trees I saw on the top of that great mountain. He’s so much like those trees, in fact, that it’s hard to believe he’d ever been through such a terrible and overwhelming fire. But he did.
Andy survived that fire.
And now, he helps people tell stories and leads others out of their own fires.
I asked Andy, earlier this morning, if I could use his story in my post today. I made sure to tell him that I would keep it anonymous and that I wouldn’t make it obvious that I was talking about him.
What I was really thinking, I now realize, was this:
You won’t have to roll that sleeve back up, man. Don’t you worry. I wouldn’t want people to have to see those scars again.
But it turns out Andy still understands beauty better than me, for this was his response:
Go for it. You can share my whole story if you would like to and share a picture. I’m fine with sharing more story. It’s not really mine anyway right?
So this, I guess, is what real beauty looks like, short sleeves and all…
I can’t say it’s exactly the image I would have chosen. But, looking at it now, I suppose it makes perfect sense.
*If you’re reading this post, would you mind thanking Andy for living out a great story by sending him a message on Twitter or Facebook? I know it would mean a lot to him. What’s more, I bet he’d love to hear your stories, too.
Photo Credit: Michelle Catania (Creative Commons)