I stood there for a long time—unsure of what to do, rocked by everything that had happened.
After what felt like hours standing there gobsmacked, a sharp pain in my foot brought me back to reality. I looked down and grimaced, seeing my foot covered in dirt and blood.
Looking up, an unforgiving mountain loomed. I was afraid I couldn’t pursue the fire-creature now. But then, up ahead, I caught a glimpse of a trail leading to a more forgiving pass. It looked like it would take me over the mountain ridge and into the valley the creature had headed. Maybe I could still follow it?
But first, I had to do something about my foot. My mind finally decided to take charge and shoved my limping body back in the direction of my abandoned shoe. I could head up the trail over the pass after my foot was no longer being directly exposed to every sharp object in the wilderness.
A few minutes down the trail and—ouch—my mind and heart might have been driving before, but it was certainly my aching body that took over. My foot seared with pain as I continued limping along.
Finally, I reached my abandoned shoe. I hobbled to a trickling spring, washed my foot, rinsed my newly red-browned tennis shoe, gingerly slid my foot inside it, and let out a deep sigh.
For the first time, I took a long look at the world around me, breathing in the smell of pine sap, forest flowers, cold clear air, and the gently gurgling alpine water before me. Ants and wood beetles crawled through needles and grass and dirt and decaying stumps. White-capped peaks rose beyond the ridge where the fire-creature disappeared. The trail of switchbacks wound up the ridge toward the pass.
Shoe or not, my foot still really hurt. For a moment I considered going back. But I didn’t even know what “back” looked like anymore. The bland and predictable world I knew felt like fiction compared to this—there was scent, color, sound, life everywhere.
No, there was no going back. My heart feeling resolved, I took another deep breath and stood up. I couldn’t imagine any other choice but to take the trail. I had to follow the creature over the ridge and into the valley. I had to know what it was. I had to know what it wanted from me.
My body at this point was resigned to being pushed around and begrudgingly limped its way toward the trail. Soon, my mind took over again and I started thinking—this time it’s logistics.
Was my foot even in shape to hike that trail? And what about after that? And forget my foot—did I even have what I needed to survive? Could I chase the fire-creature through this wilderness for a day? A week? Months? It began to dawn on me this could be a long journey. What started as a sprint could be a marathon.
Suddenly the loneliness of the forest pressed in. I didn’t even know this place, I had no supplies at all, I definitely didn’t know how to survive here, and my foot hurt—a lot.
Reality settled in: I couldn’t hike the trail. But I also knew I couldn’t not hike the trail.
The war of my mind, heart, and body had my head spinning. My eyes began to well up. The despair and frustration of it all overwhelmed me as I trudged through the woods toward the trail.
The creature had asked me, “Who are you?”
“Hah!” I scoffed dejectedly, “What a question to ask.”
The swirling sea of emotions that had gripped my attention now turned harshly inward on myself.
“I don’t even know who I really am,” I thought. The pain of my foot was immeasurably small compared to the echoing lack of an answer to that simple question.
I was so deeply buried in my head I didn’t notice I was no longer alone.