A grain of sand

Rachel Chen, Featured Columnist

     The sand went on and on in waves, each enveloping the next. The sheer size of the area combined with the last rays of the setting sun sent a sense of awe through my shivering body. It was cold out, but I barely noticed due to the brilliance of the landscape surrounding me.

     I had heard of people who feel tiny next to the ocean, but the beach was nothing compared to this. None of the sights I have seen stand out in my memory like Death Valley does – not the Pacific or Atlantic coast, not the Grand Canyon or even Niagara Falls. 

    Maybe it’s all in the name, although only one person was recorded to have died in the valley during the Gold Rush. The idea of death, morbid as it is, strikes me as uniquely human. In a way, it is sort of a shared experience between us all. Of course, it happens to other organisms too, like animals and plants. And like them, we grow up with the instinct to do enough to survive. But deep down inside, I think all humans want to do more than survive and be able to live.

     We do our best to get rich fast, just like they did back in the Gold Rush – even if it means running headfirst into a desert with no accurate map in hand. We work hard without knowing what will happen, thinking that one day we will get to do what we want. As humans we build up our lives, but in the end everyone is going to die, possibly before we see the results of our work. It seems somewhat hopeless to me, that we even bother trying.

     I remember my third grade self standing there with my family, watching the sunset and feeling incredibly small. All the sand seemed to go on forever and I realized that if a person, especially a small person like me, were to get lost in the sand, it would be nearly impossible to get out.

     I tried to imagine the people who had come here before me. Some of them might have even been with their families, like I was, as they tried to cross the valley. What could they have been thinking when they saw the sand dunes towering over them?

     I couldn’t picture people making it out of that desert. I thought of the man who had died there. Was his dream of a new life worth that doomed journey? 

     Whatever happened to the people who made it out of there, the risk of death was not enough to stop them from starting their journey. Somehow, they knew that there was going to be more to their trip than being trapped in the desert for a while. They got over their fear and were able to begin the new life they had fought for. They held on to their hope.

     We took a family picture with Death Valley in the background, trapping that massive landscape into a photograph.

     Looking at it years later, I still remember how amazed I was seeing it and I often try to relive the feeling it gave me. I want to be able to look at life like the people who crossed Death Valley must have seen it. While it may be large and seemingly impossible to conquer, I pray that my hopes and dreams are strong enough to help me forget my fears and trudge on anyway.

    I am one insignificant person in the world right now – just another speck of sand in the desert of life that is blown from place to place. I might not make it to the other side, the life I hope to live one day, but at least I will know I did all I could.

    Someday I want to go back and be amazed all over again, but I don’t know if I will be. Despite what happens, I hope to at the very least be able to find that same sense of awe in life itself.