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Fitz's Opinion: An Old Pueblo pilgrimage for a new day in a new year
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Fitz’s Opinion

Fitz's Opinion: An Old Pueblo pilgrimage for a new day in a new year

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

A new day. A new year. A new man. Perfect.

At sunrise, the sinner parallel parked and beep-locked his car, grabbed his saguaro walking stick walked in through the crowds, past the bench, and stood to study the familiar long gradual straight incline of asphalt that lay directly ahead, dotted with pilgrims.

He would be among the prodigal penitents returning to Tumamoc today, his saguaro hiking stick clacking at the pavement after so many years.

He stopped at the shrine, confessed his sins to the mosaic, lit a candle in his head promising himself this was the year he’d defeat temptation and, believing in the redemptive power of Tumamoc, walked into the throng of beautiful pilgrims, his stick clacking, hauling the sinner forward into 2022.

He leaned on his stick by the rust-colored stone laboratories where he vaguely remembered something about the science of ecology being born here, making this hill and its surroundings the perfect sacred space in which to find one’s place in the world, a pilgrimage site ideal for a man lost in the maze.

Saguaros crowned with thorns, and deaf to his lamentations, watched the penitent slowly wind his way up his private Golgotha, step by step, in silence, where he found agony and seclusion, challenge and reflection, followed by insights, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace and he was only at the first switchback. The sinner’s fate and future as unpredictable as a monsoon day, this Via Dolorosa, would become the fixed point in his universe, this rediscovered ritual, this daily ascent, this church of the cholla and temple of the tough.

Here, among the cactus wrens, before he fell from grace and moderation, is where he learned to love this desert, with friends, classmates, children and lovers, to name its inhabitants. To vandalize it. To preserve it, cultivate it, respect it, cherish it and mourn it.

The Forgiven stumbled onward, leaning into the miserable ascent, step by leaden step, his drum major heart pumping fast as a hummingbird’s, his lungs filling like fine bellows as stomp by stomp the weary old sinner stomped up the switchbacks, expecting to greet Moses coming down from the mount with two stone tablets bearing the laws the sinner ignored and for which he was now atoning, bead by bead, prayer by prayer.

The sinner exhaled frost like a locomotive churning up the side of Tumamoc imagining himself on Spain’s Camino de Santiago, the path to redemption known as “The Way.”

For him, Tumamoc was “The Way.” His sloth-killing Kilimanjaro. The Monk’s Seventh Mountain. His relaunch. His reboot. With every contrite step the old sinner swore reformation into the asphalt. Up the asphalt he marched, clacking his staff like a Sonoran prophet ascending Sinai, eyes on the white line, the straight and narrow.

He loved the desert’s startling silence, the wonder of the morning sunlight transforming dewy cactus spines into golden halos, the beautiful reassuring rainbow of humanity seeking the summit, the challenge, the sweat, the pilgrimage, this Haj among the javelina to Mecca, with him.

Appalled at the sight of the next incline, his knees buckled. The penitent stopped at the switchback, caught his breath and after searching the city below for the home of the sleeping souls who were the reason he was here, he hobbled on toward being a better man, up the cursed hill.

Young women passed him, the fragrance of their youth unspooling memories of a time long ago when he could run up and down these switchbacks like the man who pranced past him, up the hill, like an elegant roadrunner.

Sisyphus bargained with his God for the strength to make it to the summit, vowing to roll his dark boulder uphill every day until he wore that ball of remorse into a perfect pearl.

A family with a laughing stroller passed him in the dusk. They may as well had been walking up the Matterhorn.

This was his private Golgotha, where he came to shed his unseen crosses and find strength, He hoped to die on Tumamaoc. He laughed. When that day comes he imagined his weathered penitent self, transfigured, in clouds of dust devils, with Saints Cochise, Ed Abbey, Cesar Chavez and Big Jim Griffith at his side, ascending to Heaven, from Tumamoc’s glorious summit.

So far to go. His lungs drank in the exhilarating air. Out with the bad. In with good.

He was almost there, taking tiny steps, exhausted, embarrassed and gasping. Out with the bad. In with the good.

In sight of the summit, he rested his hands on his knees, emptied his lungs of all of 2021 with a long slow breath, and stepped into the sunrise chill of 2022.

David Fitzsimmons: tooner@tucson.com


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