I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend at Grand Canyon National Park with 47 Airmen from Luke Air Force Base and Davis-Monthan AFB. Besides escaping the heat of Phoenix, I was looking forward to two of my favorite things: ministry and Grand Canyon National Park.
I often tell people I have the best job in the Air Force. I have the honor of serving Airman, of meeting them where they are on their journey in the Air Force and walking alongside them.
That weekend, we hiked through the top three layers of Grand Canyon out to Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail. There was ample time to reflect upon what made the desert pastel layers. There are nine major rock layers in Grand Canyon, with the oldest layer of rock at the bottom of the canyon and the newest layer on top covering years of earth history. One of the upper layers we hiked is Coconino Sandstone. It is a fossilized sand dune desert. The profiles of dunes can be seen on the exposed walls of this layer. Other layers were deposited in deep oceans or river deltas as the canyon evolved through time. Each layer tells a story.
We started our hike much like we start relationships with our friends and co-workers — on the surface. We typically carry our newest experiences closest to the surface. This is similar to the fact that only about 5% of visitors to the canyon actually go below the rim. We can be like that ourselves, only willing to show a few the deeper layers within us, avoiding being vulnerable, or getting hurt. We can be like that with others by seeking to know them only on the surface.
If we are open to getting to know people more genuinely we begin to discover deeper layers. We learn their stories and what it took to create their layers. Each of the layers within us, like those in Grand Canyon, vary in thickness and fragility. Some chip away easily and can cause us to slip and slide, while other layers are thicker and stronger, creating a support for future layers to form.
At this time when there is so much attention on suicide and what might be causing people to consider it, I encourage you to look at each person around you in depth. Look at the layers of their experiences. But don’t be like the 95% of visitors that stay at the surface — put on your hiking boots, grab your hydration pack, and walk alongside them, journeying deeper, discovering the beauty that lies within their story.