Monday, May 16, 2011

The Perils and Pleasures of Being High

My life is lived mostly at ground level, in two dimensions. I look up sometimes, but I hardly ever consider the spaces much above my head as part of the immediate physical world I inhabit.

This weekend my world expanded to three dimensions for a little while as I was running up the highest point in New Haven. It is called East Rock and it is a 350-foot high basalt formation that, even if I am generous, cannot be said to “loom” over the city. It more-accurately “glances over the shoulder” of New Haven. There is a road that leads to the top and I like to run up this road most Sundays.

This past Sunday I was near the top of East Rock, running along the road that skirts the edges of a cliff in some places and offers a good view of the Mill River valley below. The drop from the road down to the valley floor is at least 300 feet. As I neared the edge, two turkey vultures blasted up into view mere feet ahead of me, riding an updraft from below and startling the poop out of me. It looked to me like someone had yanked an invisible string and pulled these birds up from the valley floor and high into the air in front of me.

I stopped and watched them for a while as they continued to rise without even a flap of their wings. Vultures are not known for their good looks, but these two birds were the epitome of grace as they made the tiniest of adjustments to their outermost wing feathers to affect changes in their drift and glide. Watching these birds reminded me of the third dimension I walk around in all the time. My wife skydives for fun, so she looks at the air above us differently than I do. She certainly sees it as another medium, like water, that humans locomote through. I just about never think of it that way, but watching those vultures made it clear to me that there is a third dimension—life is not just length and width. There is also depth.

As they soared out and away across the valley and toward West Rock I lost sight of them and continued my run.

And as I did it came to me that most of my relationships are also lived in those same two dimensions. There is a length and a width to them, but the depth is something I hardly ever recognize or explore. The times when this third dimension comes most reliably into focus are when I or someone close to me says something honest. Often the truth catches me by surprise and all in a moment reminds me of just how surface-y and full of shit most of my moments are by contrast.

Being honest and saying what is really there not only makes that third dimension in my relationships “pop” into focus, it also provides lift to reach some pretty amazing places if I am willing to stay in them. Choosing to love someone is a brave decision that loses much of its power if, over time, that love is lived out in two dimensions instead of three.


  1. And like skydiving, living honestly requires some combination of courage, clinical impulsiveness, and a willingness to surrender control. What a great metaphor!

    I also love that you get both "value of honesty" and "vultures east rock" into the tag line.

  2. Loved this, Chris. Thanks for sharing the insight. :-)