‘In this big ball of people, I’m just one grain of sand on this beach.’ – Aurora.
This vast land rolls away as far as I can see in every direction, barren and empty. Space is disceptive. Things seem closer than they actually are. My eyes trick me, making distance difficult to calculate. A rock formation appears to be close, but as we walk towards it, it grows further and further away until we have been walking for half an hour and it is no nearer than before.
This is Wadi Rum.
The desert is in constant flux. Bow your head to the ground and listen to the rustle of millions upon millions of grains of sand on the move – rolling, blowing, rattling alongside one another. Dung beetles leave tracks that weave across the dunes, only to be blown away by the restless wind mere minutes later. The whole place is disintegrating, over the millenia. One day, everything will be dust.
The quiet is so dense it makes my ears ring. It presses down upon me so that I can almost feel its weight on my shoulders. It is also simmering hot, heat radiating up from the sand. Giant silent monoliths rise up all around, towering over me, shadowed with crevasses and cracks where the wind has eroded them.
Just the week before, I was in Jerusalem, surrounded by thousands of people who had travelled from around the world to worship in the Holy City. I’d witnessed Christians crying when they saw the birth place of Christ. A group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims were staying in the city on their way to the River Jordan to be baptised. I observed Jews touching the Wailing Wall reverently, whilst swallows swooped and soared above them in the early evening light. Muslims came to worship in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Jerusalem is a melting pot of religions and cultures, all coming together to praise their respective deity. And I felt nothing. I didn’t care.
I never have cared much for religion.
Out here, it is different though. I feel a reverence for this ancient landscape. There is wonder here. I am awed by the mighty rock formations, each as old as time. Primal elements are shaping this land, the evidence is all around. This is something much more tangible than a god nobody has ever seen. Science is something I can grasp, it explains the world that we live in, there is proof. Here is the proof.
The heat bleeds from the ground as the sun begins to sink towards the horizon. The sky is awash with colour – a watercolour painting, tangerine shades splashed across the canvas. Mackeral clouds turn gradually candyfloss pink, then to a bruised purple. Slowly, everything darkens to the deepest shade of blue and finally, black.
Stars scatter across the velvet sky, countless trillions of them. In the desert, where light pollution does not invade, we are treated to a brilliant display. They twinkle and wink. I feel irrelevant and miniscule in the world, which in itself is infinitesimal in a boundless universe. We humans are merely an insignificant blot on a timeline spanning eons. Soon, we will be forgotten. I close my eyes and briefly consider this.
The flames of the campfire flare and flicker. I open my eyes. Shadows are cast against the rock walls around our camp. Ali brews sweet mint tea and we exclaim as he shows us the half bag of sugar he carelessly throws into the blackened kettle. I still drink endless glasses of the heady concoction. Our hosts chuckle and call it ‘Bedouin whisky’, offering repeated refills. A shisha pipe is passed around. We lean back and relax, gaze skywards at the stars. Chatter and laughter roll over and wrap around me.
It is good to be humbled by the world around us from time to time.
Good to be reminded how small we are. How unimportant. Problems and irritations in our lives become mere trifles when faced with the harsh natural world. Spending time in the desert will do that to you. Make you remember the important things. Family, friends, make time, be kind, laugh, be generous, consider others.
If only everyone could visit the desert now and again and be made to feel insignificant under the stars. Be made to feel reverent at the base of the quiet, ageless monoliths. Everyone should be respectful of the sheer force of nature that shapes the environment around them.
Humans are like the grains of sand in the desert. We roll and rustle along our individual journeys, shaping the little piece of world we occupy. Everyone should be reminded that they’re nothing more or less important than that. A grain of sand in the dusts of time.