Canyon Parable

In a recent broadcast of her “On Being” radio show, Krista Tippett interviewed Dr. Ira Byock, a pioneer in the hospice movement who’s written extensively on end-of-life issues.  Byock shared what he’s learning about people who face death and what they say to loved ones before they die.  Victims of 9/11, for example, who made final phone calls home chose to say four things to the people they most cared about:  “I Love You.”  “Please forgive me.”  “I forgive you.”  “Thank you.”  Though eleven words might not capture the totality of our relationships, they do offer a perspective as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.  Byock suggests these words have a transforming and strengthening effect on the people who say them and on the people who hear them.  They are words worth saying anytime.

No single religion has a monopoly on love, confession, forgiveness, or gratitude; all the major religions of the world include these four virtues.  Christians seek to walk this path, so do Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists.  In the sacred texts of all these faiths there is some form of the Golden Rule:  Do unto others what you would have done to you.  We may be more connected to each other than we realize or care to admit. 

A canyon parable.  A hundred people were given cameras and twelve hours to take photographs of the Grand Canyon.  After thousands of shutter clicks, each person chose his or her favorite shot and displayed it in an exhibition.  Of the hundred photos, no two matched exactly.  Some photographers chose an image taken from the rim.  Others stood on the canyon floor a mile below.  Some images were composed while hiking one of the many trails.  Some photos were taken at dawn, others at dusk, and many sometime between.  There were wide-angle perspectives, but just as many closeups.  So many ways of experiencing the reality of  the Grand Canyon.

A team of judges attempted to give an award for the photo that most accurately depicted the Grand Canyon.  But it was impossible.  How could they agree?  Who was to say one was “better” than another?  And what’s the definition of “better” anyway?  Soon the bickering among the judges spilled over to the now agitated photographers.  First it was just a war of words, but then expensive cameras were hurled like launched missiles and tripods were used as lethal swords.  In no time, bodies lay dead.  Among the casualties, only two survivors remained.  Falling to their knees and weakly raising their bloodied heads, they said to each other in one voice:  “I love you.”  “Please forgive me.”  “I forgive you.”  “Thank you.”   

[If you like this photograph, or any others that appear in previous blogs, I’ll mail to your home a 4″x6″ print in a white, 8″x10″ mat, ready for you to frame.  $10.  Send me a message on my CONTACT page or email me at]



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