An Unexpected, Beautiful Moment in Rio de Janeiro
I’m not sure what it is about traveling that makes me more in touch with my emotions. It might be the shift from intense busy-ness and self-consuming lifestyles that we lead, into the relaxing, in-the-moment experiences. Somehow, I am able to drop into a more sensitive place and notice more of what is around me and how I feel about it. So, while I continued to search fruitlessly for my cup of decaf in Brazil, I had a bit of a moment, that qualifies as “emotional!”
We herded our 21 teenagers to the top of a mountain in Rio. It is an iconic spot that I’m sure you have read or heard about. Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer stands atop the Corcovado Mountain on the edge of the water overlooking all of Rio de Janeiro. We had seen the statue from our hotel rooftop and from the bus window, which compounded my building anticipation of being up close and personal with the famous site. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the mountain and we waited in the heat for a train to take us to the top. The young ushers were dressed up, as it was only a week before Carnival. It was a crowded platform, and surrounded by a jungle-like terrain, or an urban rain forest. Our tour guide told a story of how he had recently rescued a sloth from the jungle path on the way up the mountain!
The trains were built by the Swiss to help the citizens of Rio create their enormous tribute to Christ atop an extremely steep grade. The materials were hauled up by the railway to make the 98-foot tall, art deco statue, with his arms spreading 92 feet wide. It was built in the 1920’s by a combination of private and church money. It is made of reinforced concrete covered by thousands of soapstone triangles, and is the largest sculpture, in the art-deco style, in the world.
While riding through the rain forest on the train, I kept my eye open for sloths and birds, to no avail, but the views left me speechless. We exited the train and rode the escalator up to get our first glance. The scene immediately overwhelmed me. The sun was making the statue glow from all sides and I could not believe the scale of what was in front of me. Walking around the statue, from all sides, I could not help but feel small and disproportionate. It was one of those moments my husband teases me about, in which I am suddenly flooded with questions about all the details. I get consumed with curiosity about all the how’s and why’s of a project like this.
But more importantly, I really understood how healing this could be for those who make the pilgrimage here for religious reasons. It is so unusual to see what humans can do, in honor of what they love and believe. Similar to the Pyramids, or the Wailing Wall, or even the Statue of Liberty. It sounds obvious, but our favorite icons in the world are often the human-made ones. We flock to the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal as much as we do the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Why? I think that seeing what humans are capable of building can offer hope and inspiration. At a time when there is so much destruction and dehumanizing activity, I think we can all use a little, or a big Redeemer.
So, yes, I was tearful up there. Luckily, I had my sunglasses on and could avoid the 21 teens we were escorting, while I took photos and tried to “be in the moment.” Of course my “moment” included hundreds of tourists taking photos with their arms spread wide, imitating the statue. That all felt a bit disrespectful to me, as I had a dear friend in mind and in heart, whose dream it is to make that pilgrimage someday. I was there for her, and for myself a little too, I guess. The statue of Christ stands on a pedestal that holds a tiny chapel underneath. My husband and I sat inside the sweet chapel for a few moments and listened to the Gregorian chant as people lit candles. It was simple and lovely. It clearly did not matter what religion you were, or weren’t. I’m sure it was about religion and Jesus Christ for some, but there really didn’t seem to be any pressure to believe in any particular thing at all. It just offered a peaceful moment to be part of humanity, while visiting someplace very special. As my husband aptly says, ”Well, you don’t see something like that everyday!”
Surrounding the statue, the sky was so crystal blue and the mountains so green, it could only be a once in a lifetime view. 360 degrees of the stunning Rio de Janeiro. Mountains, jungle, beaches, and the city, in all its glory. Each evening, the statue watches over the torrential rain and highly dramatic, exciting lightning episodes. But on that day, Rio’s sky was fantastic and clear. We bought a little treasure up there for our friend. When I brought it home to her, she could not have been more touched. Somehow, I really feel that my special experience brought her a little closer to being able to realize her dream. Kind of a two-for bucket list experience! Much better than any cup of decaf I could have had that day!