That time I nearly fell off Machu Picchu


I have a lovely friend named Elise Ballard, who wrote this fabulous, inspirational book Epiphany! True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform. Several years ago, she asked me to share any epiphanies I'd experienced, and I wrote this:

“You’re here to learn patience.”

I heard these words in my head as I sat on an ancient granite altar in the ruins of Machu Picchu on top of the Andes in Peru. 'Patience?' I thought. 'I’ve come all the way to Peru for an out-of-body experience, and I get ‘patience’?' Um, okaay.

I was there with my boyfriend, Ken. Six weeks prior to the trip, Ken and I had talked seriously about breaking up. We’d been dating just over a year, and we had our fears about aspects of each other and our relationship as a whole. Talking about our fears had made us realize that we really loved what our relationship brought out in each of us, and that we wanted to stay together.

So, there we were, both sitting on this huge granite altar in what had been a temple in the citadel (yep, we were bad tourists and climbed over the rope). It was late in the day, and the grounds were nearly empty. We didn’t speak.

I stared ahead, glancing upon a spiky sotol plant growing out of a wall about 15 feet in front of me and thought, 'I’m ready. Whatcha’ got?' It was so quiet, and peaceful.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.


I couldn’t help staring at the sotol. The light was getting dimmer, but the sharpness of the plant seemed to stand out at me. Like an old Pepto Bismol commercial, the space between me and the plant seemed to close in while the surroundings blurred. Then I heard the message about patience.

'Well, shoot, I know I need to work on patience,' I thought, impatiently. Anything else?

It was still. I was back from Pepto- Bismol-blurry world. I felt the breeze on my face. I felt Ken sitting to my right. And, I got an overwhelming reassuring feeling that Ken and I were okay. We were good together. Our choice to stay together was healthy, and there was no need to fret over our decision. I reached out to put my hand on his knee and felt a warm, tingly current go up my arm. We agreed we were ready to leave the grounds for the evening.

Early the next morning, Ken and I climbed up Huayna Picchu, the peak that towers over Machu Picchu, and he asked me to marry him.

I nearly fell off the mountain in surprise.

I felt a rush of fear.

What about X? And, we hadn’t resolved Y…?

I remembered the day before. The current up my arm.

I knew we were good together.

I took the leap, and said, YES.

It felt like I floated back down the mountain.

Later, that evening at dinner, I asked Ken when he decided to ask me to marry him. He said, “Yesterday, when we were sitting on that rock.”

An epiphany is defined in the dictionary as an illuminating discovery, realization, disclosure, or insight. In her book, Elise defines it as “a moment of sudden or great realization about life that usually changes you in some way.”

I feel I had two epiphanies at Machu Picchu: one more immediate than the other – I married Ken in 1997, a year after our Peru trip. Yay! And, to my chagrin and consternation, I continue having learning experiences about patience.

Sharing the Peru story with Elise was a blessing and perhaps a mini- or re-epiphany for me, because I was reminded about the Patience Message. When the voice spoke of patience, the implication to me was that my whole lifetime would be in service to that lesson.

Sharing my epiphany reminded me that there is no stopwatch I’m racing, and I can’t “fail the test.”

I still work on really feeling that. Living it. Shushing the insistent internal voice that says, ‘there’s not enough time,’ and ‘you have to DO, DO, DO everything NOW to be given the “keys to the kingdom,” to be worthy of your desired outcomes.’

But, deep down, I know there is no race, except for the thrill of running. If I want or need to walk or stand still on the course, that’s okay.