Recently, I stood under the expansive West Texas night where stars dotted the sky, as if a shotgun scattered buckshot against the heavens. Big Bend National Park boasts little of the romance or swagger other national parks deliver. No magical geysers like Yellowstone, none of the mystique of Yosemite’s giant sequoias. This parched country offers none of the Smoky Mountains’ misty allure, no hint of the Tetons’ cathedral spires. Here, you’ll find none of the verdant abundance on display in Acadia or the Everglades.
Big Bend offers a bare, jagged beauty, a place described as “the end of the road.” The day we visited, driving miles through the canyons and across the Chihuahuan Desert, we spotted two other cars. If you were to get lost backcountry, they’d probably find you only when the vultures circled overhead.
This is a place where you sink into the vastness, where you stand silent, awed, while the sky threatens to swallow you whole. Fixed on scorched earth and gazing over miles and miles of cactus and rock, you watch the sun melt into a distant universe. Here, a rugged mercy finds you, corners you. Humbled into silence, you hear the stillness, a terrible kindness, a gracious reckoning of all you carried into these craggy vistas.
This stunning, wondrous, brutal land does not need me. It asks me for nothing save my reverence. There is freedom in knowing I am not in charge, that I am not the power at the center of things.
I visited Big Bend with a few friends, each of us arriving with our own weariness and bewilderment. One of us grieved a father’s recent death. One of us mourned a profound betrayal. One of us carried the exhaustion of numerous broken stories. One of us brought tense anxiety about a child’s future. And here we were in desolate country enveloped by a dangerous beauty simultaneously haunting and alluring. What a strange relief to recognize the truth that I do not hold the world upon my shoulders. Here’s the invitation: to live with courage and intention, but then to relinquish the oppressive illusion that I manage my life’s uncertain terrain.
We do the best we know to do, but then we must yield and receive every gift, however it comes. Ultimately, our lives (and the lives of those we love) is not our own making. At the center of existence, we discover a rugged mercy.