Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Walking through the Valley of Death - A Lenten Meditation

I felt called to walk, take a detour back from my parents' home near Las Vegas towards my home in Los Angeles county. Instead of the direct route, I drove through and hiked around in Death Valley.

Normally, Death Valley is a vast expanse of desolation. The name is appropriate. The lowest point in the US can be found in Death Valley, in a spot aptly called Badwater. There, the ground is so parched that the runoff water flows in loaded with minerals and evaporates into an expanse of almost pure salt. It looks like snow.  And unlike snow, it doesn't quench or nourish. It might trick you into thinking so, but it does quite the opposite.

The salt poisons and dries you out even further.

We humans have used salts for thousands of years to preserve foods and as part of our burial functions. It flavors our food, but its functional usefulness has mostly been for keeping dead things in a useful state of prolonged death. Yet, it's not about preserving life. Nor is it about expediting death. It's about making the process of death interminably prolonged and unnatural.

I pondered these thoughts during my sojourn because my dear friend Carol was in the Intensive Care Unit here in Los Angeles County. Her health had been deteriorating and many of her functions were grinding to a halt. In fact, while I was away in Vegas, she lost consciousness and had been sleeping for several days.

I normally take this detour once a year because in February, the flowers bloom in the desert. You see, it doesn't rain often in Southern California, much less in the deserts. So when winter rains come, it's an ideal time to head to the drylands and marinate in the glorious flowers that bloom ever so briefly in the wasteland.

For you see, Death Valley isn't actually dead. It's in a state of suspended animation. Like a body preserved in salt, it's in between that place of the living and the dead.

And this year, I was in for a treat. I didn't know it, but I was stepping into what is known as a Superbloom. Even though El Nino hasn't been as powerful in Southern California as expected, there were still greater rains than we've experienced in years. And, the melting snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountains help contribute to the meager waters of Death Valley.

So the flowers had not only returned, they were raging. Exploding. Shimmering. Blossoms spanned from the walls of the mountain cliffs to the very edge of the deadly salt basins. Yellow Evening Primrose flowers 1-3 feet in height made it look more like a field in France than a desert mortuary.

And in between the yellow flowers, there were delicate 6 inch tall purple Phacelias flowers. They hid carefully, almost shyly, under the larger, extroverted yellows. And quietly in between the purples, there were white flowers even more bashful than their purple sisters.

Then you kneel on the ground. You sit on the edge of a ravine to soak in nature. You bend over to take a photo. And you realize, there, in plain sight but not visible from normal human eye levels, were lovely delicate purple pink flowers known as purple mat.

The purple mat was everywhere and yet when you weren't looking, you could have passed by not noticing the vibrant life. You could have assumed that life stood still. Even while you're noticing the raging yellow primrose, you don't notice that there's so much more alive, so much more life, than meets the eye.

And, if you're lucky enough, brave enough, patient enough, you can stay into the night. This happened to be a full moon drive to start this trip so I got to see the desert in a peculiar moonlit coloration. If you get out of your car, walk a little, sit a little, you'll hear the sounds of animals scurrying around on the rocks and sand.

They hide during the painfully hot days and come out in the evening. Even in the winter, when it's necessary for the reptiles to come out and absorb some of the sun's warmth, they do most of their foraging or hunting at night.

Life rages on in the desert.

I visited Carol the day after my hikes and chatted with her husband. They're such a loving couple. Though she was still not conscious, I prayed with them, shared some healing waters I brought back from Lourdes, France, and shared in their pain. I missed my good friend Michael, Carol's cousin, as I left just before he got there.

And on Friday, during some meetings, I wept, when I heard that Carol's condition was taking a turn for the worst.

And yesterday, the family took her off life support.

And today, she moved on.

Carol always tells me that she loves watching my travel on Facebook. She and Jeff get to live out exciting trips vicariously whenever their families and friends post photos and thoughts online. She seems particularly excited during dinners together to discuss the trips as well.

I have no doubt that when I walked through Death Valley, I was walking among the flowers with Carol. That I was gazing in awe at the same moon. That we prayed for the same love eternal.

I have no doubt that Carol's organ donations will bring life anew to others in ways we can only imagine. Her eyes evidently will be a gift to someone shortly. Her sight, her vision, her way of seeing life in the stony rock wall.

I have no doubt that I was gazing at life made new in Death Valley. That life is there even when it looks like the land is barren. Here you stand in the middle of a salty wasteland as far as you can see, and yet on the edge of that wasteland, life encroaches, approaches, ventures to its very edge.

It's the tears falling from skies and from our hearts that waters the gritty sand, bringing those long forgotten seeds just enough love and attention to bring a torrent of life's energy anew.

And after the blooms fade, after the glories fall petal by petal back down to the earth, new seeds are strewn into the wind. We can't see them, but they're spreading, waiting for another opportunity to spring alive once again.

The salt may keep life in a state of prolonged preservation, in a condition of suspended animation. It's not death. It's not life.

But life ever beautiful, ever delicate, ever bold, ever precious, can lie beside the salty ground waiting to return.

Thank you for walking with me on every one of my journeys, Carol and for
calling me to see the lovely reminder to be loving, hopeful, and alive.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.


  1. Beautifully written, gentle and spiritual... So sorry for your loss, your words were so moving. Thank you for your generous spirit, I too enjoy your shares, thoughts and especially photos. I visited Death Valley just before the flowers a few Januarys ago, when it was indeed a vision of white... Sending love xxx

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  3. Thank you so much for the kind words Anne. I appreciate them very much and am holding your recent loss in my heart as well.