July 27, 2012, one year since the most devastating day of our lives, Erika and I wound our way toward Table Rock State Park north of Greenville, South Carolina. A gigantic rectangular granite expanse loomed in the distance. Cherokee legend honors this mountain as the dining table of the Great Spirit and the smaller mountain as his stool.
We did not know what this sacred place had in store for us, and the immense gratitude we would feel for the encounter that we would have there. We began working our way up the stairs of the 3.5 mile climb to the summit. We wound up through thick, green canopies, and passed several bubbling streams and cascading waterfalls. The sky began to darken, bulbous clouds swallowing each patch of blue. Suddenly, lightning electrified the atmosphere, followed by a crash of thunder. It wasn’t supposed to storm that day, but the phenomenon made sense to us in a profoundly meaningful way. Nathan died in a motorcycle accident a year ago that day.
The night of his accident, Erika and I held each other and wept as a thunderstorm raged across the sky. Nathan loved thunderstorms, we remembered through tears. A year later, on the steps of the mountain, we looked at each other, embraced and laughed, filled with gratitude and peace. Nathan loved thunderstorms. We knew that the thunderstorm was our connection to him. The rain washed over us, each drop soaking into our skin and filling our hearts. There was something in the air more complex than just the swirling storm around us. We felt like he was with us. We breathed deeply of the wet earth, and continued our climb to the summit.
We hiked up 2,000 feet to celebrate his energetic spirit and active life. Nathan, Erica’s brother and my friend from childhood; Nathan was the reason for our climb. Erika and I stepped out of the cover of trees and the storm dissipated just as suddenly as it formed. We made our way onto the bald, granite platform, the sun illuminating our steps. Erika and I sat down and spent several minutes in silence beholding the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that descended to luscious plains, glistening after the rain. A rush of memories filled our hearts.
Erika and I recounted the many Nathan stories we cherished, and we cried and laughed together. Everything about his life was extreme, and he accepted people for who they were. 300 people came to his funeral, all changed by his amazing life. Gratitude resonated through our beings that we had the joy and honor of being his sister and friend. In remembrance of our time with Nathan on the earth and on this mountain, we gathered rocks of unique shapes and sizes and arranged them in a tower looking out over the rolling peaks.
Erika and I wanted to honor Nathan by doing something that he would have done on the anniversary of his death: an intense hike to the heights. We wanted to feel connected to him and to his memory, and we did. I will always be grateful for Nathan, how he changed my life, and how he met us on the mountain that day.
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