Look, look up there, I can see it now!
The first sighting
I DON’T TURN AROUND. I want the Wall to find me, and not vice versa. If it’s as big as they say, well, let it impress me by showing itself. I keep still in the bus looking out the window. I’m close to the front, since I get dizzy in the back of the bus. About fifteen minutes go by, and more sightings are shared amongst the students. I’m stubborn and refuse to look.
Embracing the challenge I have set, we turn around a corner, and there it is in front of me: the mountain chain and, at its top, the ‘old dragon’. It curls its sleek body up and down the outline of the mountains. It lies there quiet, imposing, and grandiose.
My breath is gone. For an instance, I feel embraced by its enormity and beauty. And then I feel the terror of its challenge. “Climb me,” it says. “Come and walk on my back. I dare you to.” I am in utter silence. I can’t even turn to the students to tell them I see it. I now understand their excitement. “I am made from the tears and sweat of thousands. I come from the limitless imagination of the human mind.”
“What is the Wall?” Brad will later ask the students.
The Wall is human’s limitless vision of creation. It is a living monument to anyone who dared to utter the word “impossible.” It stands there…defying reason. It mocks the trip to the moon, the exploration of space; it reminds us that the true frontier is the one that lies deep inside each of us. The voice in our heads the makes us doubt ourselves and what we are capable of accomplishing. THAT is the real Wall we are all called upon to climb in our lifetime.
Tomorrow morning will be my turn. Will I be able to climb to the Wall?
Great Wall Historian William Lindesay
Meeting the specialist
We arrive to meet William Lindesay. These are the true people who make TGS unique. We are so lucky to constantly meet people who have found their ‘element’. For William, the Wall is a living and breathing thing. He has explored all of its sections, knows its history that expands from early years BCE to the middle part of the 17th century. He knows it’s not just one Wall; it’s a series of imposing monuments – testaments to the human spirit to protect what it defines as theirs. It reminds us of our need to own Earth and to feel secure within its limits, limits that we artificially create to this day: nations, states, cities, towns, homes, rooms and, ultimately, in our hearts.
Learning from the Wall
We wake up at 3:45 a.m. My heart is pounding. The day looks grim and rainy. I pay no attention. I have only one thing on my mind: will I be able to reach the top? It is a 10km hike, most of it uphill through mountainous territory. We will also walk on the Dragon’s back while being up there. We quietly head out into the night.
The road curls – up, up, up it goes. I stop many times to catch my breath. I dare not look up, but I can’t resist. There it is closer – closer and finally one last sprint.
I am here! I come to learn from you. I have listened. I stopped thinking about what I couldn’t do, and I am now relishing in the joy of what I have accomplished.
And so the lesson begins. What is the Wall? We will each come up with our own definitions by the end of the day.
There is something else I see – the Wall is crumbling. It’s being beaten by the passing of time. Mother Nature is claiming it for herself. Roots are tearing apart the blocks that took thousands of men and women to build. Once more, I hear the Wall speaking to me:
Yes, it doesn’t matter how grandiose we look. It doesn’t matter how arrogant we might feel about our own accomplishments. Ultimately, nature will take us back to where we really belong. It is our lifecycle to embrace and rejoice.
In the evening, we all sit around sipping warm drinks before jumping into our sleeping bags. All of us will be camping for the night at the foot of the mountain. We are listening to William telling us a story about how the desert almost took the lives of the National Geographic film crew as they went looking for another part of the Wall. It is a tale that goes along with the one the Wall told me. At the end, Nature will always have the last word. I’m not surprised that both William and the Wall shared a similar story with us; they are both one.
I look up at the outline in the night sky. I see the faces of our students hypnotized by William’s natural storytelling abilities. I look up to watch the International Space Station circle past us. I smile at the lessons our students are living: dream, create, envision, build, be limitless both inside your hearts and beyond the confines of our Earth.