I was in El Peñol, Colombia on Easter Sunday.
Peñol is a city of rebirth. In 1978 the government flooded the region to create the El Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir. They relocated the roughly 6,000 residents of El Peñol to a “new” town, submerging their original home 30 meters below the water.
We climbed 700 steps to the top of the “The Rock” that overlooked the entire reservoir.
As a memorial to their old town, the citizens of Peñol erected this statue — a phoenix rising not from ash, but from water.
Colombia itself is a country on the rise. Ask most North Americans and Europeans what they know about Colombia and you’ll likely hear the name Pablo Escobar or perhaps cocaine or coffee. But that’s not the Colombia that exists today. Maybe their phoenix hasn’t risen high enough for the world to see yet. But you see her everywhere as you walk the friendly, safe streets of Medellin.
Every major religion has its rebirth ritual. Muslims celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of the purifying fast of Ramadan. The Jewish faith has Yom Kippur, where one atones for sin and starts anew.
And Christians have Easter, where Jesus triumphs over death. Easter Week has always been the most spiritual for me… even as I stopped identifying with the Christian faith.
Christmas celebrates family, joy, and love, and Easter has always felt like a more accurate microcosm for life. In just a few days, you work through complexities like anticipation, betrayal, unfairness, duty, grief, reflection, silence, and then doubt, reconciliation, and joy. There’s even a touch of feminism in there, too.
In the US and Europe, Easter Sunday is the main event. Most do nothing to mark the other occasions of the week. But in Colombia, the culture recognizes you can’t have the Phoenix without the ashes from which to rise.
Easter Sunday was almost an afterthought. Maundy Thursday (the night of Jesus’ betrayal) and Good Friday (the day of Jesus’ death) were at the center of the celebration. On Good Friday, I watched as hundreds in Medellin marched through the streets carrying their crosses. There was singing and celebration on the saddest day of the Christian year.
I was fascinated by the contrast to the Easter I’d grown up with. They were finding joy in the struggle, not in the payoff. And I suddenly realized that maybe in US culture, we’d missed the point all together.
There’s something to be said about celebrating the hard part — about carrying your cross up the mountain joyfully. We can’t just skip that.
I once heard a business owner say that she loved feeling that scared pit in her stomach. She loved it because that horrible feeling meant that she was about to “level up.” She recognized that the scared mindfuck part was the good part.
It’s difficult to remember sometimes. We like celebrating the “wins.” We like ignoring the losses. Christmas is just so much fun. Recently, I’ve been going through a sort-of “rebirth” in my business. Part of our business died and we’re looking at the pile of ashes waiting to see what rises.
In order to get the view, you have to walk up the mountain — even if it is 700 steps.
We can’t just skip the hard part because the rising is more fun. Or, in the words of Louis CK:
So, next time you’re going through struggle, have a parade. Sing while you carry that cross. Relish in the ashes, dance in the flood, and enjoy the climb. Because the view is about to be spectacular.