Ten hours till I begin my third semester at my dream school. I didn’t even know that at this point I’d have a dream school, let alone be attending it. But I didn’t know a lot of things.
I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be married with a kid by twenty-two like my mom was. I didn’t know that I would make myself at home all over the world and yet not actually have any place to go home to. I didn’t know that what you do for a living is what you do with your life, and no matter how deep the ache grows for more meaningful things, they will never be more than long-distance fantasies if your scarce time and energy are always being poured into “should.” Nobody tells you that. Nobody tells you that you can’t outrun your own passion, no matter how responsible you think you’re being. I bought these lessons at full price; I paid for them with my time, my tears, my soul.
But there is a difference between late and too late. What I have lost—no, invested—in years, in opportunities, in stamina, I have received back with interest in experience. It took so long to get here. I remember one time asking a shop owner if he loved his business. He replied, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” My thoughts in the following seconds were telling: “I can’t imagine feeling that way about anything! Well, except for, um, music. But…” The thing I’ve learned is that life is way too short for “Well… But…” Whatever that one idea is that seems like a fool’s dream to you, that you would do in a perfect world if only you didn’t have to worry about xyz, and your mind always goes back to it no matter what else you’re doing, that is the very thing you should be chasing after!
Honestly, I have no idea what’s on the horizon. Dreaming involves risk. Big risk. It’s helpful when other people believe in you, but that also adds extra weight to every branch you step out onto. But what is the alternative—not dreaming? Not living?! What are you doing here anyway? If you weren’t made with a purpose in mind, then what? We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to chase the visions which have been given to us—to go, even just to find out what we might be capable of.
So here I am, nine-and-a-half hours till I begin my third semester at my dream school. What will tomorrow be like? I don’t know. Another Tuesday in a sea of many, maybe, but it doesn’t matter. Every day that I take a step forward is a day closer to catching that dream.
I’m just gonna come out and say it: hurtling through the atmosphere seven miles above the earth in a bloated metal capsule that’s being controlled by someone you know nothing about and have probably never even seen before . . . well, it’s downright terrifying. The only way that’s not terrifying is if you don’t let yourself think about it, a feat of mental fortitude which is not impossible but becomes much more so when a crosswind picks up and you start feeling those adrenaline-surging bumps and sways.
But even if it’s a smooth ride and a perfectly pleasant day, there’s another terror to contend with—the empty seat next to you which beckons like a siren for that one person who has been waiting all day to get on the plane and is just tickled at the idea of having a captive audience for hours at a stretch. The horror of being strapped to a tiny seat, too close to allow for anything even remotely resembling personal space, next to a talker—oh, the humanity!
Don’t know if it’s just me, but the more I fly, the more I tend to feel like the odds are stacking against me. Whether it’s plunging to an untimely demise in an icy deep or having my eardrums melted right out of my head by someone who, by the way, is taking up enough of that precious cabin air for the both of us, I’m tempted to wonder when the winds of fate are going to turn against me and my winning streak of safe, happy travels will screech to an inevitable end. Thoughts like these are almost enough to bully the most ardent wanderlust into quiet submission. Is it really healthy to keep thinking your number might come up every time you get up and go?
But then I think about all that would be lost if I didn’t venture out. Those times and experiences that burrow so deep into the soul, it’s like they become a part of your very DNA. The rare jewels of faces who turn from strangers into lifelong friends over the course of a single coffee or bus delay. The colors, the smells, the feelings, the inspiration, the memories, the hope . . . .
I write this from thirty thousand feet in the air. It’s dark out, and below lies a vast, unforgiving sea. I’m in a non-reclining seat and some guy who smells like tobacco just moved to the seat next to me, which I was planning to use to prop up my swelling feet. But none of that matters. As we head east, the now-faded sun races around the opposite way so tomorrow can catch us bright and early. And what awaits on the other side? Morning light in Venice. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Somehow it’s the shortest days that tend to feel the longest. Summer sun kisses have faded beyond the reach of memory and now everything inside me longs for nothing more than to be warm again. But still there is grace. It’s the darkest time of year, and yet everything is blanketed bright and shimmering—glistening by day, glittering by night. Even in this somber season there is so much to be grateful for.
Back Bay, Boston, MA
There’s a boundary for the sea. It makes a perfect place to meet. We can stand on the edge of this vast, unfathomable deep and feel it lapping at our feet.
Big Sur, CA
The thing is, you just keep going up and up and up. The little bus winds ever upward on roads definitively too small for its wheelbase, packed with people on the inside and laden with luggage and more people on the roof, not to mention the kid who sometimes hangs out the door watching the wheels intently and yelling directions to the driver, or sometimes jumps out and walks in front and motions with his arms, crouching down to make sure he can see each stone about to give way under the precariously situated tires. Somehow you get to your destination in one piece, and then you start walking. Up, up, up . . . . You walk and you breathe and you gaze and you walk, for a day, two days, three days, or more. The sunlight pierces and the wind chills and as a coating of ice crunches under your feet, you see things you’ve never dreamt you would. You meet with the most random people—a sociable soldier on break from his outpost; a silent, steady-footed porter; an ancient long-haired man sitting out in literally the middle of nowhere with great purpose, nobody to talk to, and a handful of religious trinkets as weathered as his steady hands. You stop along the way to watch a rainbow of prayer flags dancing in the wind or to share a celebratory drink with strangers or to enjoy a meal miraculously whipped up on somebody’s kitchen floor with one dish, a handful of ingredients, and a pile of dung set on fire. And then you keep walking. Up, up, up . . . . And when you get to the top of your climb, you look back on how far you’ve come and marvel. Then you look up ahead and realize, by all accounts, that you are at the bottom of a gigantic valley. Mountains upon mountains!
Langtang NP, Nepal
It may or may not be a coincidence that it is found in my home state. It is definitely not a coincidence that I didn’t discover it until well into my adult life, when I most needed to feel like there was a place on this planet I could call home. Sure I don’t have a house or a town or a heap of annual family traditions to “go back” to; sure I’ve dodged every Facebook page and every high school reunion. It just seems like home should be so much more than that. The sweetness in the air, the familiar touch of the sun, the melody of an afternoon breeze lapping the water just like it always does in my favorite memories; the time with friends and loved ones, the time alone just to pray . . . and breathe.
Thousand Island Lake, Sierra Nevada, CA
this is a crossroads
not quite the end
of a journey much less
without than within
this is a day to decide
whether you will fall
whether the miles have
made you stronger
or the air has
worn too thin
to put down your pack
follow the track
then pick it up
and begin again
Trail Crest, John Muir Trail, CA