Remembering to Look Up

Hikers Crossing West Fork River

A Couple weeks ago, I was in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico with a group of veterans. Amazing trip. Incredible beauty.

The Gila River Canyon is spectacular. Carved out of the Mogollon Mountains of central New Mexico, 200-foot cliffs tower above a placid river, flowing gently amongst the ponderosa pines that line its banks.

It’s also a bit of a bitch. Pretty frickin’ hot. Lots of poison ivy. The trail we followed crossed the river about every 500 yards. Ankle to knee deep, the crossings were sure to soak your feet – no way to avoid it. About 30 crossings a day. The dry parts were just long enough for you to squish all the water out of your shoes before getting back in. After about the 25th crossing, it became a bit annoying. Lots of poison ivy.

The trail was pretty clear and easy to follow, though it sometimes abruptly ended at the junction of the river and those 200-foot cliffs, leaving you wondering where to pick it up again. And, like any wilderness trail, it had lots of wilderness – softball to basketball sized rocks, plenty of downed trees to climb over, under or go around, and poison ivy. Did I mention the poison ivy?

Hikers on West Fork Crossing of Gila River

As we hiked deeper into the wilderness, we became focused on those fallen trees and rocks; the river crossings over slick algae covered river stones; and trying to sidestep the poison ivy. We became so focused on overcoming these small obstacles, looking out for our feet, that we forgot to look up and recognize the goodness and beauty around us.

You know what it’s like. Coffee maker breaks. Internet goes down. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Those little life inconveniences that grab and hold our attention. They distract us from the fact that we’re healthy, have a solid job, and people who love us.

Veterans sometimes do the same thing. Trying to manage those life challenges while dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or an amputation can become overwhelming. They become obstacles so big they cannot be overcome. Veterans start to lose sight of the goodness in their lives, the beauty that exists around them every day.

Thomas Flook sitting

Thomas Flook, looking up.

They need something to remind them to look up. Need to be reminded of the strength they possess. Reminded that what lies within them is stronger than what is in their way. That moment on the trail when we discussed looking up and recognizing what’s good in our lives was a powerful moment.

Maybe today, you can ask a veteran how they are doing. See if they are focused on the rocks and poison ivy. Or, are they looking up? Maybe ask them what they have going on that’s good in their life. Encourage them to focus on the goodness – not the poison ivy. Did I mention the poison ivy?