With shades of orange and pink, the rising sun smoothed the jagged edges of the snowcapped moutains, rendering them deceitfully gentle for a time.
Topping his final rise, the bedraggled soldier Olnan saw the shrine in front of him, not too far away now. Taking time to rest, breathing deep of the fresh, chilled air, he took a moment to admire its beauty.
As he admired it, a memory came unbidden, but not unwelcome.
His father was holding his hand. He seemed happy enough, but his breathing was labored at this high altitude.
“Are you well, father?”
He smiled at the note of adult concern in his son’s voice. “Yes, Olnan. I’m fine. We’re here now. All is well.”
“Do you want me to go in with you?” He was curious to see the inside of an actual shrine.
“Of course I do. It’s time for you to learn the rituals I perform that honor the ancestors.”
“Like …. ” Olnan took a moment to figure it out. “… your grandfather?”
His father laughed with pride. “Yes, Olnan! Well done! Yes, like my grandfather, but also those who came before him. We owe them a great debt we can’t repay. They went through many things to settle us here, and faced hard times.”
Olnan beamed at the praise.
His father lapsed into silence, but didn’t move. Olnan knew when that happened that he was supposed to wait; Father was remembering something unpleasant. When he spoke again, his voice was husky with emotion.
“But they didn’t give up.” He looked down at Olnan. “Let’s go, son.”
Still holding Olnan’s hand, they entered the shrine.
Olnan felt warmed by the memory, and sadness at the empty space beside him now hit him unexpectedly hard. He took another moment to gather himself.
And now, my father has become an ancestor, and I’m not yet a father myself.
He took the offering pack that held the ritual’s needs off his back and held it instead.
It seemed even now that he could see his father there at the door, motioning for him to come inside.
Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the shrine, smiling through his tears.
One day, my children…