One Sunday morning, I set out to climb an easy mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park with a group of women I know. I was a little more tired than usual having spent the proceeding day in a learn-to-canoe class and in doing some weight-lifting as part of my exercise routine.
As I plodded up the trail, the tiredness increased and a vague pain occurred in my chest. That has been a fairly common experience for me and the pain usually disappears after a few minutes. However, on this day it didn’t disappear. So I decided to head back to the car and wait for the group.
When the women had returned and were getting into their cars to go home, I decided I would like to hike in Beaver Meadows. My companion, Jean, and another woman joined me. After a couple miles, the pain came back, so I started looking for a trail that might circle back to where we started. We stopped by a small creek. As I sat collecting my breath, my eyes fell on a spot of sunlight on the creek’s bank; there was a lone beautiful pink calypso orchid, so perfect in the sunlight among the shaded rocks of the creek.
The pain persisted, and I realized I needed to get back to the car as soon as possible. The fastest way would be on my own two feet. The image of the orchid clung in my mind as I hiked back. When I reached the car, I asked Jean to drive and told her that perhaps we should stop at the Longmont United Hospital on our way back.
Jean didn’t say a word and drove immediately to the Estes Park Medical Center. As the automatic doors opened and I walked in, a man came towards me. I didn’t say a word but put my hands over my heart.
I was whisked onto a table, my clothes pulled off and a cuff put on my arm. The man leaned over me saying, “Don’t leave us! Don’t leave us!”
The doctor called for a helicopter. I heard the blades, and as I was wheeled out in the purple light of the setting sun, I caught a view of Long’s Peak silhouetted by the sun, bathed in lavender and pink against the darkening sky. That beautiful sight was imprinted in my mind as helicopter door closed and we lifted off.
It seemed like forever as I dreamed of being on a gurney being wheeled at a high rate of speed over an immense asphalt parking lot. When I woke up, I heard the beeping of machines while a technician watched over me.
After several days and many tests, the doctor told me a third of my heart had been damaged. It took a long time to get my energy back. A short walk down the sidewalk took all the energy I had.
After that, I felt I needed to protect my heart, to listen to its beating and hold it gently. I started meditating, concentrating my attention on my heart, breathing energy into it and surrounding it with a sense of protection.
I soon realized after such a profound event, what happened in the past does not matter. It cannot be undone. And the future? Who can count on it? Whatever I may plan or anticipate, it all can change in an instant!
I realized it is the current moment that is important: the beauty that is all around me, a flower blowing gently in the wind, the grandeur of a peak, the sounds of music, listening as people connect with me, the sound of children playing and laughing.
Each moment is a gift to be cherished.