Life Lessons from the Grand Canyon, Continued…

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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When we last left off, I had just bumped into a handsome pilot at a gas station convenience store in Flagstaff, Arizona, the same man I’d been on a blind date with two days before, and one of only two people that I know in the whole state of Arizona (see this blog post for that fun story!).

Matt and I had stared at each other, stunned, for a while, before going our separate ways again. What were the odds?

“100% I guess!” he’d texted me later.

More Destiny Stories

After Matt and I parted ways, since he had to go fly a plane, I resumed my journey to the Grand Canyon that had begun hours and hours before. I only had about one hour left to go.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think I’d make it to the Canyon before dark. I figured I would simply get a hotel room for the night and then get up before sunrise to meditate at the edge of the Grand Canyon, as planned, before heading back to Phoenix to catch a plane back to New York.

The last hour of the trip flew by. I had the car on cruise control, going 70 down the highway, and the view was spectacular. I watched the sunset over the roads, desert, red mountains and wide sky of Arizona.

I finally got to the Grand Canyon at about six p.m. I stopped at a gas station convenience store to use the restroom and get some more water and sunflower seeds. I bought postcards for a few friends as well.

I nodded and smiled at the other two customers, a women who looked Navajo and her son. The two cashiers also looked Native American.

We exchanged pleasantries, and I was on my way.

Entering from the South

I was at the south entrance to the canyon, and signs said I would have to drive about 30 miles to get to the Grand Village, which has hotels, restaurants and shops. I figured I’d stay overnight at the Bright Angel Hotel, which was in that “village.”

I hadn’t booked a room yet, but I wasn’t worried about it. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants a bit when I travel, and things always seem to map out for me in the end.

By the time I finally pulled into Grand Canyon Park, it was dark. The sun had set, although it wasn’t even 7 p.m. yet.

Oh well, I thought, no worries, I’ll just catch some night time Canyon Views with a near-full moon, and then crash at the hotel for the night.

Pulling into the park was a little spooky since as it turns out it was actually “Closed,” according to the signs. Well, I thought, at least I don’t have to pay to enter. The gates were still open, but there wasn’t anyone checking cars or charging the $25 fee.

So far, so good. I pulled over to the first viewpoint area, and drove my car over to the edge of the canyon. There was one other car in the vast parking lot, and I parked a distance from that car, just in case it was a serial killer stalking women alone at the canyon at night (hey, one can never be too safe these days!).

Full Moon Over Canyon

I jumped out of my car, and walked to the edge. The moon was full and white, a slice of light, and she lit up the canyon from above. I could see the silhouettes of desert trees, and the variegated cliff rock. It was lovely.

I didn’t stay long however, just in case that other person in this big canyon with me was unsavory. As I pulled out of the viewpoint area, I noticed a gas station to my left.

“What the heck,” I thought. “Let me go get gas.” I had about 1/8 of a tank which I figured was plenty to get me the 30 miles I needed to go to Grand Village Park, and then back out again in the morning. But it would be easier to just fill the tank now, and then head out straight-away in the morning.

The gas station was closed, but the pumps were still lit-up and open. I went ahead and filled up, using my credit card.

Then I was off again to find the Canyon Village Park!

Enforced Silence

I drove in silence, on purpose, because I’d wanted this day to be a “retreat” of sorts for me. I was visiting the Grand Canyon, fasting, and practicing being in silence.

To me, the only way to “hear” God, if you believe in such a thing, or to access one’s own inner wisdom, is to silence the mind and to get away from the incessant distractions of our technology and video-game obsessed society.

Somehow driving in the dark, alone in the Grand Canyon, with no other cars anywhere in sight, and signs here and there warning of mountain lions in the park, felt a little lonely. Driving 30 miles in these conditions felt like a long time.

It felt like it took much longer than ½ hour.

Time seemed to have slowed to a near halt.

Oh, the Memories…

That was OK with me. I knew that coming to the Grand Canyon alone might be emotional for me.

The last time I had traveled there was in 1992. I was 21 years old at the time, and was traveling across country on a three-week long bus trip with about 70 other college students and young adults.

We were registering people to vote before the 1992 presidential election. We stopped in 22 major cities all around the country over those three weeks, registered homeless people to vote in states where they allowed it, and slept at night on gymnasium or church floors.

Partway through the trip we’d made a stop at the Grand Canyon for an afternoon. It was, of course, absolutely spectacular.

I’d purchased 30 postcards to mail to my dear friend Eric, who was back in MA, where we grew up together. He had requested that I write out and mail him 30 postcards.

Bizarrely enough, I agreed to do just that. Eric had a way of asking me to do things that was so sweet and gentle, and with just enough teasing in it, that he could make me do just about anything. Well, except kiss him ~ I pulled away whenever he had tried because I loved him on a soul level already, and felt like if we got involved at any point in time it would be a serious romance.

I was 21, a bit of a mess, still figuring out my life, and not ready to be involved in a serious relationship. So I avoided romance with Eric, but considered him to be one of my best friends.

He had always felt like a “Guardian Angel” to me too, here on Earth, because he always kept an eye out for me at parties in high school when I got too drunk and was in danger of having boys take advantage of me. Eric always served as the designated driver, and always made sure I made it home safely, even if he had to wait it out while I sobered up for a while at a local diner or on a playground somewhere.

He was seemingly infinitely patient with me, kind and generous to a fault (I hated to see others hurt him because of it), and also always playfully teasing me. He had a million nicknames for me, and me for him.

Eric was a gentle giant, the six foot three captain of our high school basketball team (I was a cheerleader), with soft brown eyes, kind eyes.

He had died when I was 22 and when he was 23 following open-heart surgery. Eric suffered from Marfan’s syndrome, a congenital disorder of the connective tissues. We all thought he’d live well into adulthood, since most people with Marfan’s do. Not Eric. They always take the best ones too young, the angels on this earth, isn’t that what they say?

Revisiting the Past

So I expected that visiting the Grand Canyon might be emotional for me, especially since Eric had also written a poem back in 1993 about the Grand Canyon and given it to me.

He wrote:

When she finds her prince

She will not be sitting at home

Doing needlework with her mother

She will be

Standing on the edge of a cliff

Waiting to jump

E. K. 1993

I had copied that poem in pencil on the back of a black and white photograph of Eric in his Springfield Central High School basketball uniform, up in the air, mid-jumpshot, ball flying off his fingertips.

I had saved it all these years, and it felt significant to be at the Grand Canyon as 11/11/11 and the ”Global Love Revolution” was approaching, and especially after spending the week with such handsome and amazing men (see last week’s Arizona Adventures: Part I blog post for more on that!).

A Flood of Memories Washed Over Me…

Sure enough, driving on the edge of the Grand Canyon alone in the dark, off-season when the park was closed, in the cold, alone with the mountain lions, and with the radio turned off, I was flooded with emotions and memories.

I could see Eric in my mind’s eye.

I saw him rescuing me after I was raped, back in 1991, at a New Year’s Eve party, when someone drugged my drink, got me out into the parking lot, and raped me in the back of someone’s car. I’d been left there unconscious and it was Eric who realized I was missing from the party and came to find me.

I could see him carrying me inside. I cried and cried and cried.

Being there alone in the Canyon at night, knowing I would never see Eric again, made my heart and soul ache with an almost physical pain. I knew I would be OK and have a happy life, and that was what he would want for me. But surviving the drive through the Canyon was tougher than I thought it would be. My soul was in agony.

I’d never felt so completely, utterly alone in the world.

Getting Lost and Driving in Circles

It seemed like I would never make it to the Grand Canyon Village Park, but I finally saw the first turn-off sign for it.

Perhaps because it was dark, and I was alone, the signs seemed confusing. I couldn’t seem to figure out which way to go.

I pulled over and punched the address of the Bright Angel Hotel into my phone. Surely my trusty iPhone GPS would guide me there.

My cell phone battery was low, and I didn’t have a car charger, but I was so close now that I was sure I would get there with charge to spare.

The map popped up on my phone GPS, with a little blue dot to indicate “You Are Here Now.”

I started to follow the map, when the most uncanny thing happened.

The blue dot disappeared. The map was still there, but I wasn’t, apparently! I guess I had lost my signal. I was so disoriented.

I decided just to try to keep following the signs, figuring I’d stumble onto the hotel.

Around and Around and Around…

After literally driving in circles for a while, I finally found my way into the middle of the Grand Canyon Village Park. I had never felt so lost, confused and disoriented.

No blue dot on the map! Cell phone losing its signal. No one around. What would have happened if I had run out of gas? Would I have had to sleep in the park overnight with the mountain lions in the cold, curled up on the back seat of my car?

Probably. I shuddered to think of it, and gave thanks that at least I’d been smart enough to fill my car with gas at the entrance to the park.

Unfortunately all the restaurants and shops in Grand Canyon Village Park were closed. There were still lights on, but every door had a “Closed” sign and was locked. I couldn’t even find an open bathroom.

Worst-case scenario, I figured that if I couldn’t find that hotel, or another one, I’d just turn around and head back to the south entrance of the canyon, where I’d entered earlier, and find a hotel room in town. No problem. Still it was lonely, confusing and scary being there. I missed Eric terribly. I felt like I had no direction. I was so looking forward to finding that hotel and feeling “safe” again, around other people, and to getting some rest.

Unfortunately although I kept circling around and around. I saw signs for campsites (where I knew I could park my car overnight, if need be), but I could not for the life of me find that Bright Angel Hotel.

And by this time my cell phone charge was down to about 7%. I figured I’d better save some charge in case I really had an emergency, so I shut it off. I didn’t have any signal and the GPS was no longer working at all, anyways.

It was admittedly a little frightening being all alone next to this gaping chasm, the Grand Canyon, at night in the cold and dark. I am generally very adventurous and brave, but I think because of missing Eric too, it felt extra-lonely to me.

I finally gave up looking for the Bright Angel Hotel, or any other hotel, deciding to cut my losses and just head back into town. I’d had enough.

Almost There…?!

I knew I’d have to backtrack and drive the 30 miles back out of the canyon. No problem. I decided that this point to give up my “vow of silence” and turn on the radio just to keep me company.

As if the radio station, MAGIC 106.1, had been expressly programmed for me, song after song poured out of the radio that reminded me of Eric. U2 songs, REM songs, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, which always makes me think of Eric.

Whenever I hear that song, I always feel like he’s around, and that he’s telling me, “It’s all OK,” that I am exactly where I need to be at that moment. So despite the loneliness of the drive, and getting lost and having no GPS or signal and barely any cell phone juice left, I figured that I was where I was supposed to be.

Maybe I was just supposed to come to the park that night to really grieve Eric fully, so I’d be really ready to move on to my Prince. Who knew the “why” of it, I just knew I was there, and knew of no other way out except retracing my steps and exiting through the south entrance again.

Left, Right?

Unfortunately by the time I pulled out of Grand Canyon Village Park, I was so turned around that I didn’t know which was way was south and which was north. I couldn’t figure out the signs. I had no GPS, no AT&T signal left.

Oh well, I thought. I am just going to have to take my best guess, and hope I make the right turn!

Off I went. Luckily I had the radio to keep me company now, and it played song after song after song that reminded me of Eric. Well, I thought, maybe it’s just an 80s station, since that was the decade when we were teenagers together.

I drove, and drove, and drove, and drove. There didn’t appear to be any rest areas alongside the Grand Canyon, at least not any that I could easily find in the dark.

I finally got so desperate that I had to pull the car over to get out and pee, even though the road did not really have a shoulder. I prayed those mountain lions would not sneak up on me and bite my bare butt!

And I prayed that no one would drive by while I was peeing by the roadside, but then again since I hadn’t seen another car in like an hour, I wasn’t too worried about that.

Driving and Driving and Driving…

I drove and drove and drove for what felt like an eternity. And while I drove, I cried and cried, releasing stored-up memories of Eric, perhaps accepting it on some deeper level that he died so young (which seemed so unfair, especially considering what a great man and soul he was).

I cried along to all the songs on the radio that seemed to be programmed just for me. I drove and drove and drove and time just seemed to slow down to a crawl.

I had the car on cruise control, and it felt like I’d been driving forever. I thought of Jesus Christ’s 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. To me, this lonely time in the cold and dark, next to a yawning chasm, felt like 40 years, or maybe 40,000 years. My soul felt like that chasm, deep and empty and cold.

I had never felt so desperately alone. I didn’t know how much longer I could take it.

Civilization! I prayed for civilization. And I drove and drove and drove. An hour passed, and then another half-hour.

Clearly I had made the wrong turn, and was looping accidentally around the entire canyon. Good God. Just my luck.

150 miles later… and two-and-a-half agonizing hours-that-felt-like-centuries later, I finally saw a sign indicating that I was close to the exit for the canyon.

Thank God! Finally!

It is a 180-mile loop around the whole canyon, from the south entrance to the north. Apparently, I’d inadvertently taken the “Grand Tour,” and driven the whole loop, by myself, in the dark and cold, with no cell phone charge, no food, no company, alone. Forlorn.

I wanted to kiss the ground when I finally made my way out of the canyon and pulled back into the same gas station convenience store where I’d started my epic adventure three hours earlier.

I had never been so relieved to enter a gas station!

I parked for a few minutes when I got there, just catching my breath. I dried the tears that by now had surely washed all the makeup off my face. I wasn’t heaving with sobs any longer. I had made it through the dark night of my soul. I had survived being alone in the Grand Canyon at night.

I had survived.

Well, my lifetime was certainly a tale of not only surviving, but thriving, after trauma, so this was the least of it, really.

Breathing It In

Somehow, that MAGIC 106.1 radio station just kept playing song after song that touched my heart. I must have sat in the car for ½ hour before I finally headed into the convenience store to use the bathroom and get more water.

I glanced at the sign on the door before entering. It said the gas station was closing at 8:30 and it was basically 8:30 p.m. on the dot.

Whew! Lucky! I’d just made it in.

I headed to the bathroom then came back out to get a bottle of water. Oddly enough, I noticed that the same customers who had been shopping when I left were still in the convenience store. Hmmm. I thought. Now it really felt as though time had stopped while I was in the Grand Canyon. Oh well, I thought, maybe they just live nearby and decided to stop back here to buy milk before the store closed, or something.

I paid for my purchases, exited the store, and the cashier locked the door behind me.

I sat in my car, parked in front of the store, for probably about another 15 minutes or so, just gathering myself. It had been a wild ride.

After my time in the Canyon, I’d decided that I wasn’t up to staying there overnight after all. I would drive back to Phoenix, which was a four-hour drive and head straight to the airport in the morning if need be.

Next time, I would come to the Canyon during the day, with someone I loved. No more nightmares.

Just as I was about to pull away, a moving figure caught my eye out of my peripheral vision. I looked out the window, and my jaw dropped.

GUESS WHO Was in the Canyon Gas Station With Me?

Now to give this some more back-story, earlier that day I had spent two hours on the phone with a spiritual intuitive healer who had told me, apropos of nothing, that “You are going to write best-selling books and be a world famous teacher, like a female Eckhart Tolle. You’ll be rich and famous, not that that matters, but it is how you can impact the most lives in a positive way.”

Great! I thought. Sounds like a plan to me!

So here I was at the edge of the Grand Canyon at about 9 at night in November, right before 11/11/11. The Canyon Park was closed, and there didn’t appear to be any other tourists around.

But there was one other man in that parking lot with me, who was walking from the door of the closed store towards his truck.

My eyes popped open wide. I could not lift my jaw back up.

It was Eckhart Tolle.

I was in a parking lot, outside the Grand Canyon, the same day I’d been told I would be the “female Eckhart Tolle,” WITH Eckhart Tolle, with his unmistakable elf-ish face.

Seeing Eckhart is kind of like seeing Oprah; their faces are distinctive and like no other.

I was utterly in awe… What were the odds of it?!?! Miraculous ~ it was simply miraculous.

4 morals of this life-lesson story, to me, is as follows:

All the possessions and money in the world cannot make up for the loss of someone we love dearly. When that person is gone from this world, they are gone forever, although I believe through my life experiences that we still have access to their spirit. I felt Eric with me in the Grand Canyon, as I have many times before over the 17 years in which he’s been “gone” from this earth. But a part of my soul will always miss his physical presence, terribly.

I believe that I needed to have that experience in the Grand Canyon to grieve Eric on a deeper level. I will always miss him, and my soul needed to let some of that sorrow out. We can grieve deeply, and still go on and live a happy life. We sometimes just need to let the tears out, and let go of what no longer is in our lives. Time marches on, and we must as well.

I don’t think it was a “coincidence” that I ended up in the parking lot with Eckhart Tolle after getting lost for three hours, and parking my car for another 45 minutes. Something in the Universe was aligning so that we would see each other in that exact moment. Someday, I figure, once I am rich and famous, I will tell him how pivotal that moment was to me…

In the end, this reinforces for me, again (see last week’s blog post!) that there is no need to worry about anything, and that even the things that seem “bad” in our lives are just there to either teach us or to get us to the place we need to be to live our highest purpose on this Earth.

Life is nothing short of a miracle. YOU are nothing short of a miracle. Embrace that, enjoy it, and live this life fully, without worries or regrets! Live your wildest dreams!

Wishing you luck with that this week… Take some baby steps towards realizing your deepest heart’s desires and wishes, trusting that all is aligning in divine timing for you, and that every wish of your heart will come true.

Lisa Powell Graham
Get Happy!

Give us your thoughts!


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  • Heather

    Really?!? Of course you run into Eckhart Tolle, in a gas station, at the Grand Canyon.

    Thanks for the great kickoff to this story… can’t wait to hear more!

    – Heather

  • Heather

    Damn girl! Quite the wild ride – of course you run into Eckhart Tolle!

    Thanks for the kickoff to this story… just know its going to be good.

    – Heather

  • Katie

    Lisa! This is insanely amazing! You have me on the edge of my seat! Maybe you should move to AZ. It’s an incredible place.

  • TC

    My ex took me to the Grand Canyon for my very first time for our honeymoon. When we arrived it was dark too. We checked into the hotel and walked down to the path on the south side. There was no moon, but i will never forget the stars. They looked like they hung in front of you from the sky. I remember it was so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It was incredibly quiet. I will never forget what it was like to walk up on the canyon at sunrise the following morning. It’s a trip everyone should make at least once in their lifetime.

  • Oh dear lord … only you … see your travel stories!!

    I love him. He is always my go-to read when I am feeling lost … how interesting you would see him after being lost.

    Personally I think you are meant to tell these travel stories because you always attract interesting people (remember Tim Ferris?). My redhead Aunt Colleen would tell you it’s the magic of the red hair.

    I cannot wait to hear the rest of this story.