A couple of weeks ago, two friends and I hiked the Delicate Arch trail in Arches National Park, Moab, UT. Because they go there often, my friends were terrific guides to that strange and beautiful land. As for me, I could hardly stay on the path for trying to take in the combinations of colors, the juxtapositions of textures, the play of light and shadow, the mixture of shapes both graceful and grotesque. If you have been there, you know that the Utah desert is one of the many places in this world where even expert photographs cannot do the landscape justice. Nevertheless, many of us (and there were plenty of us out that day) had our cameras pointing every which-a-way as we tried to capture something of the grand drama of the place.
The trail was also a good place for people watching, but nothing I saw along the way quite prepared me for the interactions of hikers at the Delicate Arch itself. Nearly everyone wanted photographs of themselves with their family or friends standing next to or under the immense arch. With so many people converging at the same time, accomplishing that goal could have been complicated. Someone could have been bossy or pushy or impatient—in any one of several different languages. Most of us were hot, tired, and thirsty. The hiking equivalent of “road rage” could have erupted.
Instead, quite spontaneously, cooperation happened. Those whose shoes worked a little better on the slick rock or who were a little stronger of body or a little steadier of balance helped those who needed a boost to cross from the trail to the arch and back. People from one group handed their cameras off so that someone from another group could photograph them, and then cameras traded hands again and someone from the first group reciprocated. Everyone was able to manage the terrain; everyone was able to get the desired photo. It felt like a minor miracle.
Granted, there were no immense or complicated issues that we strangers faced that day, nothing exhaustively compelling or pressing we needed to work out among ourselves. Still, the model I saw emerge from a disparate group of hikers of varied ages, different languages, and, I assume diverse religious and philosophical traditions, gives me hope for our world. Spontaneous cooperation, we might call it. May it break out all over this planet! May we let it guide us, no matter where our paths go. May we give thanks for those in whom we encounter it along the way.