Friday, October 25, 2013

Thoughts on Life as an Adventure

I use my phone as my personal secretary, making note of any and everything I want to remember since I won't remember it myself. This includes a notepad of little thoughts I want to capture, like butterflies for a pin collection that is never quite completed.

While culling them, I noticed a pattern, one ideological genus that I've netted a lot of without realizing. The notepad read like a book (with extremely short chapters), a river of developing perspective sourced from the same spring rain.

The rain that started that flood, the initial question, was simply, what is life? And anyone really asking this question, other than for philosophical banter, is also asking, where is my place in it--what am I, or what can I do?

Is life a job, to be done well or poorly? Do I live under constant judgment and worry about my grade? Or is life a ride, to be enjoyed or feared, but over which I don't have much control? Is it a network of paths, to be chosen or else slipped down by accident? If so, can I backtrack when I lose my way, or will my wrong turns determine my path forever? Is it a battle, to be won or lost? What happens if I finish the battle--do I simply live on? Is life a game, with my job to pick which side I am on? Who are the players and what do they want from me?

These questions are important because they define how I shall look at life, where I leap when things happen or change, and how I approach my life goals. The way we view life affects what we think of as important and what we think of as passing, and whether we are hopeful or despairing.

As rivulets of question found purchase on my small mount of experience, they channeled their way toward a word that was given to me by my dad: adventure. Is life - adventure? To be both enjoyed and feared, perhaps. To struggle sometimes and rest at other times--unlike in a pure battle, where respite is only found at the end. Adventure doesn't have one certain end; it can twist and turn and change it's purpose. An adventure adapts as the facts and circumstances change.

My best friend once said that being willing to die for something is one thing, but what are you willing to live for? The question of life cannot be summed up in a noble death. Life is important not merely in what you will go to the end of it for, but also what you'll spend the middle of it doing. Around which center does the quotidian of your life revolve?

I think life is an adventure. It involves work and rest, but never stagnation. It involves battle sometimes; joy sometimes; peace sometimes; mourning sometimes; darkness sometimes; struggle sometimes. Life is many paths, but as you travel them, adversaries can change, being yourself, someone else, or a thought that haunts you. Adventure implies journey, but not necessarily just one: there may be many beginnings and many endings. I think of Frodo, taking the Ring to Rivendell past the Nazgul, finding rest, then picking up again because the adventure isn't over and situations have changed. He journeyed on past new enemies with changing friendships. He both lived to destroy the Ring and was willing to die trying.

And we like that story. The frequent uncertainty keeps it from boring us.  There is a bit of Took in all of us.We don't want Frodo to stay in his hobbithole.

God knows that enjoyment of life isn't enough for us. We will never be fulfilled by comfort and happiness alone, though the pursuit of them is a mini-adventure that temporarily satisfies. We need a real adventure to toss us about, a call for us to answer, and life-worthy work that needs us to accomplish it.

We want someone to call to us so that we can answer. The call gives us direction, and despite our show of independence, we want some direction so that we know that what we're doing is worthwhile. But then we answer the call, alone, giving direction to our own steps, giving our own energies to our movements, learning, showing our uniqueness, and proving ourselves. And it answers another need we have: that something is required of us. There is work to do, and I am vital to it. Someone out there needs me.

That's one of adventure's requirements: a call, a reason for going. An adventure is never pointless. We don't follow wind. There's an aim, requiring our lives. We put everything we have towards it.

Or not. We didn't get the call we wanted, or we're not ready to take that first step. Adventure implies unknowns and fear, and sometimes this becomes an excuse to missing the adventure entirely. Another note bore a quote from a book:

Over and over God calls us to obedience. You can't wait until you feel like obeying.
~A. Bennett

When you tell your kid to eat their food, the child doesn't want to have an adventure in eating: they want what they always want. But you must have your no-thank-you bite, because this is good for you, though you don't believe me. Luckily for you, I set the rules. So you must embark on this adventure and eat those slimy green peas. If you wait until you feel like eating vegetables, it'll be when you're dying of malnutrition, and that's too late.

The call to our adventure comes whether we like it or not. I'm sure Frodo wanted more time to consider all his options, but the Black Riders came, and he had to run. Not all of us have such a compulsion, and those of us who do complain that our hand is forced. We complain about not having choices.

But I'm glad you were forced. I never embark on change by myself; I need the forced hand.

I don't like change. It so quickly goes from progress to disintegration. 
~Upstairs Downstairs

We must have the unyielding parts of ourselves disintegrated; walls must come down. Our reliance on our own ability to handle every eventuality must be proven false before we fall on it and break ourselves. We can never be fully prepared. We must turn to rely on something other: God, or luck, or intuition. When we're forced out of our comfortable habits, we finally bother trying to find something that is actually reliable beyond ourselves.

We're always waiting til we know enough, but life is lived on partial information.

It's impossible to maintain status quo. (Life is an adventure, and she does not easily suffer people who refuse to follow along.) Life will fall apart. You'll never be informed enough to keep it all perfectly together. So life gently boots us out the door where we won't be able to waste time trying.

Having an Event that forces us into an adventure is a common occurrence. One common foot that pushes us out the door is the Advent of Real Life, otherwise known as graduation from college.

I've found that when you graduate, life pretty much takes you by the scruff of the neck and teaches you some hard lessons before releasing you into the wild.

Too true for many of us. Graduation inaugurates a thousand unknowns, which the university, blessed as they may be with ivory towers, is ill at equipping us to handle. Our university boasted a rather high got-a-job-after-college rate, but I always wondered, "Yes, but a job in what?" Probably not what the graduates expected. My post-college jobs were a nanny and a grocery worker. Not exactly what I had in mind.

There are a lot of "hard lessons" we need to learn before, heaven help us, we stumble on true Wild. The frontiers stretch all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and we don't even have a wagon or a horse. Says Life, let me teach you. Let me give you some hardship that will actually throw into your hands (if you stop crying and listen up) the tools you need. And the first one is,

Being humble is more important than being perfect. 

Once again, you're information will never be perfect. Consequently, neither will be your work. Nor your home. Nor your significant other. Nor...anything, really. You won't get it the way you like it every time. You're not entitled to anything here.

You can't be perfect and you can't make a perfect world. You won't solve the world's problems. You won't come up with the sociopolitical model that finally makes sense and makes all people rich and get along. The solutions of our age create as many problems as the solutions of our parents' and our grandparents' (which, if you remember, we're still trying to mop up).

You can't make a difference for everyone, but you can make a difference for one or two people. Pride makes us think this isn't a great feat. If you were humble, you'd see that every person has value, and bettering life for just a few has an impact no person will ever be able to calculate.

Even renouncing the so-called butterfly effect, bringing joy to one soul is something so sacred we can neither quantify nor qualify it. The Creator smiles eternally for every one tear that is wiped out of one eye. It just takes humility and valuing the individual as highly as we value our personal efforts in order for us to see it. Nobody is too small. Perhaps we ought to say that everyone is too big. One just act shines out ten times greater than it ought to by its own merit.

And that's why, 

The best role models (and parents) are the ones with the biggest, most aching hearts. 

Giving of oneself in love is still, and always will be, the most beautiful and noble thing. Those parents whose hearts ache for how much they love their children are the ones who are doing it right. They aren't perfect. They aren't always happy. Love hurts, especially in the ignorant hands of children.

But these heart-broken guardians are raising up (with as much care as partial information affords) people who will come apart from them, become separate, form their own families. It's not like marriage, which can be entered into with some selfishness because you are bringing someone into yourself; your efforts at love almost always produce a response. Parental love is like a plant, growing a flower, guiding it to fruition, expending so much energy that it stops all other growth and goes about with hair disheveled and wanting to read that one book but never getting the time--and finally dropping the fruit to form its own plant, totally separate and independent of its parent.

This is how we love our children. It's how we love some of our friends, too. It's how we love the hard-to-love. It's how we love those who are down-and-out. It's how we love those who are so broken and hurt by other people that it's amazing they're still alive. In the rescue business, you won't always get love back. It's not like rescuing an animal: feed it and it adores you. Humans are more complicated. Helping someone with a broken soul is helping someone who doesn't have it in them to love you back.

This is the most beautiful love of all, and it changes lives.

The parent and the child is a motif that rebounds again and again in nature, in work, in creativity. It happens between the friendly neighbor lady and the children next door. When she invites them over and they run around her kitchen underfoot and eating everything and "helping" her vacuum, she's doing something that is more important than, well, a whole lot of other things.

That, of course, is just her version of adventure. Yours will be different. Mine is different. I often want to love all the people I see others loving, thinking my adventure must not be as good as theirs! But all the while I'm neglecting to love those people who only I can love in my special little way. When I sit down humbly and set to work on my small corner of earth, there are fruits from my labors.

Time exists for you to pick who you want to be, in order for you to not just be what you were made of, but what you choose, too. Time is the medium in which we make choices to shape our own corner of the world: ourselves. Time exists for change to happen.

Time is required for there to be any change. A plant needs time to sprout. It needs time to get enough water. It needs time to grow tall. Only over time can things happen.

Time implies change, but it also requests it. You have a certain amount of time--and only partial information about how much it might be--in which to make choices. There's something not merely calling us out, but begging, please, take hold of your adventurous life and go somewhere. Snatch at the fluttering, flapping call upon your heart, and follow it, your aim, your goal, up hills and into the treetops; work and fight and run and sneak and get it into a corner to net it, and then--oh, but there is another one, I must catch it, too, hold on...

We could be busy for our whole life long. Busy, humble, heartbroken, and happy.