The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.
– Ernest Hemingway
You don’t need to know what a diatreme is to understand this. All you need to know is that Sam cried when she got to the top.
Far from the familiarity of Philadelphia’s sirens, horns and more vocal pedestrians, Sam had hiked with our group to the top of the diatreme.
A few days earlier, she’d flown on her first plane and hiked into the Grand Canyon and out again.
She was well outside of her comfort zone. Well, well outside.
When she arrived at the summit of the diatreme and sat with the rest of the group as cereal bars were handed out and water was encouraged, one of the other adults on the trip motioned that I should look at Sam.
I turned my head to find Sam, chin on her knees, sobbing.
She had just done something completely outside of what had ever been asked of her, and it hit her.
She was hot and tired and in a foreign space eating a cereal bar.
I turned back and nodded acknowledgement.
I didn’t sit next to Sam and comfort her. She didn’t need that from me.
One of the river guides from our trip was sitting, rubbing her shoulders.
Sam knew she was surrounded by people who cared for her. She knew she was safe. She knew we would take care of her.
I didn’t sit next to Sam because that’s what caring for Sam looked like in that moment.
Putting my arm around her and telling her things were going to be ok wouldn’t have made things any more true.
What’s more, as she was pushing herself to do more than she thought she could, Sam needed to know she was there to reassure herself, that she was enough.
I will encourage students (anyone, really) as much as I possibly can and as much as they need.
In that moment, sobbing in the shadow of a 12-foot limestone boulder, Sam supplied her own encouragement.
Friday, as we floated the last few miles of our trip, Sam and I were on the same boat.
She started talking about hiking the diatreme.
“At some point, I just got angry and decided I was going to do it,” she said.
By the time the group was ready to head back to the river, Sam had composed herself. Still visibly raw, she had a look on her face that was part determination and part frustration. The exact mixture of the two parts was fluctuating as she walked.
I picked up a round, flat volcanic stone – a perfect skipping stone.
“Look at this,” I said, “Isn’t this a great rock?”
I handed it to her, and we kept walking.
As we unloaded from the van tonight after driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix, Sam was talking to another of our students and said she still had the rock, that she’d kept it with her.
I’m an advocate of leaving only footprints and taking only pictures. I’ve said it dozens of times over the last week.
More than a small part of me, though, is perfectly fine with Sam bringing that stone back with her. She battled the diatreme and some lesser version of herself. Let that rock be the trophy of her victory.