The Most Beautiful Thing I Have Ever Seen
I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
There are many beautiful and amazing things in this world, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing a lot of them. My mind is filled with snapshots of the Earth’s wonders that I will have to look at and reflect on until the day I die. Even now, I can see in my mind Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states rising above me as my platoon treks up its sides for cold weather training. I can see multi-colored northern lights flickering in the clear sky on a cold winter’s night in Alaska. I can see a pod of beluga whales below me as I’m flying over the ocean, and I can see a line of fourteen wolves stretched out in a snow-covered open area as I fly a hundred feet above them. I’ve seen a one million strong caribou herd migrating across the tundra as far as the eye could see, and I’ve seen a line of millions of army ants stretched out to the left and right in the Panamanian jungle. I’ve flown low level over the desert in the Middle East and seen nothing but sand and rock and then unexpectedly had the ground drop away to reveal a Bedouin camp with dozens of tents and hundreds of horses and camels around me. I was once flying low level (about 50 feet) across the desert in Arizona in my helicopter seeing nothing but rocks and cactus for a very boring hour and then had the land drop away to reveal Lake Havasu, a beautiful man-made lake 60 miles long in the desert. Very beautiful and refreshing after all the drabness we had been seeing.
I could go on and on, but I’d like to tell you about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. My helicopter company had just finished a field exercise near Fort Greely, Alaska in the winter. Our fourteen helicopters were on our way back to our home base near Anchorage. To get there, we had to fly through a lot of mountainous areas. Normally, we “flew the passes”. Basically, this meant we stayed in the valleys through the mountains where the roads were and just flew 500 feet or so above the roads until we got to the other side of the mountains. We could obviously have flown over the mountains, but we rarely did because they were pretty high, and because it was normally a lot safer lower down for a helicopter since we could land on the road in an emergency.
During this particular memory, the passes were socked in with weather (i.e. the clouds were low and visibility in the passes was near zero). So, we decided to fly over the tops of the mountains to get back home since the clouds only went up a few thousand feet, and it was clear above them. We would be flying over the mountains about 45 minutes until we got to a clear area on the other side where the weather would clear out enough for us to get back down low.
Picture this in your minds, fourteen helicopters flying in formation. We are flying at an altitude of 8000 to 12000 feet. Everything below us is white clouds except for the tops of some mountains which are sticking up through the clouds. It’s late afternoon, and all of a sudden, the sun comes out from behind a cloud. Do you know how the sun can sometimes be red in the late afternoon and turn the clouds a pinkish color? That’s what happened then. All the clouds below us were turned reddish or pinkish by the sun. The mountain tops were sticking out of this solid layer of pink clouds. They looked like islands in a sea of pink. My words don’t do it justice, but it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Moral of the Story – Many beautiful things exist in this world, and you never know when you’re going to get the chance to see or experience one of them. When the opportunity comes, take the time to stop what you’re doing and enjoy it, especially if you can share the moment with a loved one. Things like that don’t happen often, and you only have one shot at it. The “islands” in a “sea of pink” happened 30 years ago, but I still pull out that memory and think about it anytime I see the sun in the late afternoon turn the clouds pink. You can’t plan for things like that. They are just small blessings when they occur. My hope for you is that you have many opportunities in the years ahead to enjoy the beauty of creation, and that you will be wise enough to appreciate it when you see it, because you may never pass that way again.