In the Grand Scheme of Things

Posted on in Healthy Living by Martha Fishburne

Revelations of an
Eighth Grader


The hike felt like an eternity, but was probably more like an hour. We had to keep stopping and taking water breaks, and our chaperone, Ms. Gonzales, told us to stop taking pictures. We were all hot and annoyed with everyone, and I was on the brink of falling asleep on the trail when Randall said, “Okay, guys, this is it. Ready?” We all nodded and started fast-walking toward the path that would take us to the meadow.

I was not prepared for what I saw. Before Yosemite, I had read some of John Muir’s writing, where he had described the valley as a cathedral, but I had never understood it.

Until now.

Half Dome, the Royal Arches, Yosemite Falls, the Three Brothers, and other mountains loomed in the distance like jagged teeth. The first cool breeze I’d felt in hours rippled the dry grass in waves and pulled at my hair and clothes. The air smelled of pine, and the dry needles hung from nearby trees.

Right now, it didn’t look like anything but a cathedral. Not one where people go to worship some man in the sky with a cotton candy beard but a place devoted to normal people. A place where people come to worship what could be, without humans and development.

After being in the shade for so long, the warm, thick sunshine was a breath of fresh air, and we gulped it greedily. The sky hung, bright and unsmudged above us. The blue was a saturated, bright shade, the kind that only appears in the deep of a Marin summer. And yet here it was, on the brink of fall.

“Remember,” Randall said, “the meadow ecosystem is very fragile, so because of that you can’t frolic.”

a man sitting on a rock

There was a chorus of “Awww,” “come on!,” and one banshee-like screech from Charlie, but they all soon stopped because we realized he was right.

Because it was hot and we were all sweaty and weary, we were allowed to sit in the shade of one of the huge trees until he teachers decided that we ought to do a spirit walk. Let me explain.

In a spirit walk, 30 seconds or so apart, people walk around somewhere beautiful. When you’re walking, you’re supposed to be reflecting and thinking and analyzing yourself.

When it was my turn to start, I took a step forward. Then another. And another. The wind blew my hair around and swirled at my legs. It rippled the dry grass and ruffled the leaves. The monuments in the distance enveloped me like a wall. I ran my hands through the long grass and reeds, palms tickling from the brittle tips.

I don’t know why I looked back at Adam, but I’m glad I did. As anyone who met Adam knows, he’s pretty tall. But out here, surrounded by mountains and the endless stretch of sky, he looked small.

Until that moment, I had been selfish. I had only cared about my friends’ problems and mine. I had no concern for anyone other than myself and a very limited number of people. But now? I had this realization and it hit me like Dorothy’s house, smashing me flat.

I am not the only person here. My whole class isn’t the only school. Outside of my tiny bubble, there is a living, breathing world out there that I have yet to discover. We are all part of something bigger, little gears in life, and we all have a role.

Suddenly, all my problems seemed small. The bad grade I got a week ago. The book that ended on a cliffhanger, leaving me restless and annoyed for the rest of the day. If the surrounding mountains, which seemed to swallow the valley and which left most of the park in shade, were just a dot on a map, then the rest of the world must be way bigger. And this planet is one of many in our solar system, which is small compared to the Milky Way. If there are thousands—no, billions—of Milky Ways in the universe, then we are absolutely nothing compared to that. And our everyday troubles, which won’t even be worth thinking about in a few years, are smaller still.

In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. Not us. Not our grades. Not our cities and towns. People fear oblivion, but our lives are already oblivious.

My brain started working a million miles a minute until I got a headache and had to stop. As I neared the clearing where we were going to write in our journals, I heard Ethan saying, “Dude, I can’t wait to go to my beach house.” I sighed, knowing that my brief 10 minutes as a philosopher were over.

Though the trip ended three days later, the realization that struck me in Leidig Meadow will stay with me forever, an evergreen reminder to look at life through a bigger lens and think of all my problems in the grand scheme of things. For it is only by doing that, that we can grow . . . as people and as a species.

Martha Fishburne is an eighth grade student at Ross School. She recently spoke at TEDx Marin about being labeled in middle school and how we are more than our labels.

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