One moment we are living, breathing, pulsating exuberances; then in one fatal step, an acorn underfoot on a cliff’s precipice, we are looking back at our lives during the last few seconds of consciousness as we plummet to our deaths. The finality only matches the youthful feeling of immortality where the two intertwine momentarily, one ripping the life’s breath from one’s chest leaving a void of unexpected helplessness to be all too quickly replaced with the dread and fear of dying.
As I sat watching monarch butterflies ride the thermals in the clear blue sky, effortlessly floating overhead on a river of air currents unseen to the eye, I couldn’t know the peril that lurked below. There on the place of granite summit upon which we sat, a blue azure sky glowed as the artist’s hand dotted its glory with bright spots of joy that moved with a fluidness of the gentle breeze. In a previous trip here, the sky was filled with black vultures circling the stench of death below. Today, death was preparing to make a grand entrance, forsaking all the man-made festivities, bringing with it, its own purpose, little caring that it carries life-altering physicality as well as simple memories of the ever so slight onlooker; thus, the gravity of the morbid self, this death.
The group of boys, dressed in a myriad of assorted pants but all in matching red t-shirts, we first met gathered around the chimney on the trail to the summit of Stone Mountain. They were being lectured to by a bearded leader and taking group photos, pictures that would soon become snapshots of a better time. As we passed them we greeted one another in cordial, “Good morning,” and soon went on our way.
Shortly afterward, upon reaching the first stone-face overlook, we took a brief rest. I sat down in a shady spot while Jonathan and Mary went to investigate an area they had visited before with the Scouts from Troop 900 when we ventured here on a previous trip. Not long after, while we were still taking pictures of our own, the boys in red came blaring onto the scene. Their voices were heard well before they were actually seen. They were as loud and boisterous as any group I’d ever met on a hike, screaming, making animal noises, and have a grand time. Forsaking our own personal solace, which had long ago vanished, we left and planned to hurriedly create as much a buffer between us and these Scouts as possible lest our peaceful hike be ruined by someone else’s party. At least we might gain a few minutes of solitude at the summit if we could arrive ahead of the herd.
For the next few minutes, we took as many strenuous short cuts as we could physically afford, while remaining in the bounds of safety to reach the summit in record time. What seemed like a victory in time only bought us a few precious minutes. Not long after reaching the peak and finding ourselves a familiar shady spot, they were soon on us; again their shouts of joy greatly preceded their arrival.
The first few arrived proudly, led by an older Scout who quickly caught my attention just from the way he was dressed. He wore the matching red shirt like the others, but in addition he wore desert fatigues with a matching desert fatigue day-pack, boots and hat. I didn’t expect to see a Scout dressed to the hilt in military attire, yet he was apparently dressed for the adventure of a lifetime I pondered, and left it at that. The military youth and his acorn throwing buddies quickly went to the ridge ahead of us and disappeared over it ascending down the other side, out of sight and sound. There was a momentary pause in the noise as more Scouts arrived, all filtering down toward where the others had just disappeared. Overhead the butterflies wafted, floating down toward where the boys had vanished.
Not far from where the Scouts were disappearing sat a young couple. They had their moment interrupted as well and were watching the parade of boys filter past. I later spoke with them and they said the desert-storm-wearing Scout was jumping in lunges sideways down the mountain. They had no idea as to what had transpired since they had left shortly after we did. Over the ridge that appears to gently slope down forever, it becomes increasingly steep until it reaches a point of no-return and becomes a sheer cliff face. We met the couple later on the trail below the mountain on the way to the homestead where we had just come from. There at homestead’s cabin, we met the elderly gentlemen who told us of hearing the sound of the body falling. He said “It was a sound like firewood coming down the mountain, but I knew better…I’ll never get that sound out of my head.” It was then the reality of death began to weigh upon us. We had tried to outrun the joy, but the dread weighed upon us all like the shadow of the mountain under which we sat.
Yet, the weightless colors of the rainbow flutter above, making a joyful scenic beauty only soon to be matched by the dark ness that would encompass this dome. As the body of the boy lay at the foot of the cliff face, the dark figures of the vultures returned overhead replacing the wafting beauty with the dread reality of the cold vein of granite stone that weaves its thread through our collective souls.
In one moment we can be alive and a vibrant living being…the next…walking with God.
It’s the frailty of life…
The 911 call came in a 12:01…
“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God,
“That I will make the sun go down at noon,
And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
And all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist,
And baldness on every head;
I will make it like mourning for an only son,
And its end like a bitter day.
– Amos 8:9-10
Please keep the family of Christopher Overcash and Troop 128 in your prayers.