Dedicated to my precious niece on the occasion of her 7th birthday.
Like a bird, I first saw the Victoria Falls when looking down on them.
I saw the falls but I didn’t really see them. As is often the case, it happened this way because of my own ignorance. In other words, I didn’t know what I was looking at. From my bird’s eye view, I could only see evidence of the falls and I even made a wrong assumption about that.
I only really saw the falls when my feet were planted firmly on the ground and I only felt the falls when my very being was completely submerged beneath their thundering force – but that happened after. Let me tell you what happened first.
I first approached Livingstone in a little commuter plane and as I looked out the window I saw large plumes of billowing smoke rising in the distance. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable for me to assume that I was seeing smoke, nor was it inconsistent with the experience of my good old-fashioned rural Canadian upbringing. I wasn’t unaccustomed to witnessing smoke plumes rising high above their fires below.
So there I was, sitting in that plane, on my perch, I was too high to hear the thunder announcing the presence of one of the largest, most beautiful, most majestic waterfalls on the planet. I was too isolated and far away. Besides, I believed in smoke.
Today I rose early and once morning had broken, I went exploring. It was a glorious start to the day. The sky was power blue and happy to hold the sunshine. The birds were singing and I was alive.
The path to Victoria Falls was set out before me. It was a bit of a winding path and I had to go through some checkpoints. I had to sign out of my resort at one station and then sign into the national park at another station. I said some “hellos” and “goodbyes” along the way.
I can best describe the path as African cobblestone. It was a bit uneven and didn’t follow a straight line. It wasn’t yellow or made of brick but it did lead me to a place that has exhausted all of my transcendent expressions of praise – Victoria Falls.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the falls. My eyes popped out of my head. My jaw has since returned to its usual position and now I’m able to tell you about it.
It was love at first sight. Instantaneously, I fell in love – in love with the “smoke” and its thunder. All the superlatives in my vocabulary but cast a shadow upon its beauty and I cannot adequately describe it. You need to experience it for yourself. You need to submerge yourself beneath its thundering force and let it take your breath away before you start to breathe again – and look up for the very first time.
Today was that moment – that moment that takes your breath away. That breath in time – suspended for a moment but enduring for eternity.
In a spirit of reverence we must treasure these moments. We must remember them and believe in the reality of their truth. We must hold them close no matter how beautiful or painful and still believe in the beauty of those dreams.
And now, here I find myself writing to you on your birthday under the canopy of the Zambian night sky. Miles apart from you but sitting under the same moon.
The water is sparkling and reflecting the starlight and so I look up to the stars. Various people at various stages of my life have told me that that if I “shoot for the moon” then even if I fail, I’ll still land amongst the stars. But tonight I want to give you different advice because tonight I know that I am in the right place at the right time and I am happy that my feet are planted firmly on this terrestrial ball. The celestial glory of the heavens will have to wait. I don’t want to look down from above any longer. I want to start looking up.
And so sweetheart…
May you ever, only and always let your smoke roar.
And may we look up – together.