I believe that a writer should live lightly and deeply: lightly, by not being weighed down too heavily with the trappings of life; and deeply, by diving into each moment and experiencing all the terror and beauty it has to offer.
Comfort-zone, shmomfort-zone. We’re called to live on the ragged edge.
More than two decades ago when I was a college sophomore in Minnesota, I found myself feeling walled in by the expectations that went with college life: to live a safe, comfortable life and land a secure, respectable job.
Recently, as I was going through my files, I found this entry in an old journal from my sophomore year. (I’m offering it to you here pretty much as I found it, with just a few minor edits to keep it readable.)
There is no feeling like it. A yearning. Knowledge that I must go. I will go. But when?
I open the door and walk down the hall. Then I enter my room, another door. So many doors.
I glance at the window. Through the glass I see the autumn leaves pulling from the trees. One by one. It’s like someone is plucking them and tossing them away. Like petals from a flower.
He loves me. He loves me not.
And the cold northern wind brings another freeze this evening. The window. Ha. I am safe here. Behind the pane. I open it a crack and can hear a chain banging against the flagpole. I have a test tomorrow. Gotta study. The call. I take off my jacket and wander out of my room into the hallway, past the other rooms. All just like mine. The front door to the dormitory lies ahead. I can study at the library, I tell myself.
I open the door.
I hear it. Something besides the breeze, beyond the clanging chain. Outside, I am now part of the wind. I feel autumn slice through me.
Class will start in 10 minutes.
I raise my arms, close my eyes and I am no longer on campus, but on a nameless peak in an unknown range. And now the wind is my friend and is whispering in my ear, “Freedom. Go. Go.”
I open my eyes, but all I see are brick buildings surrounding me and sidewalks mapping out my way.
Time for class, I think as I walk toward another building. Into another room. Through another door. That closes so firmly behind me.
At the end of that semester I transferred to another university and switched from an education major to one in outdoor recreation. I got credit for rock climbing, winter camping, scuba diving, whitewater canoeing and more.
Yeah. Now that’s more like it.
In those days I stumbled across a quote from Robert Heinlein: “To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”
Light in the ways of the world. Deep in the expanse of the moments it offers.
In the early 1900s, Robert Service, the great Yukon balladeer, closes his stirring poem “The Call of the Wild” (which should be required reading for everyone who breathes) with these words:
They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching—
But can’t you hear the Wild?—it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.
Embrace the wind that calls to you, the adventure that beckons you into this storytelling, story living life. Step deeply into the dream that invites you to dare something ridiculous and lovely and extravagant and new.
Are you cradled in custom? Are you soaked with convention through and through? Can you feel the deeper truths, the blood-pumping, eye-popping things of life calling to you from the peak, from the shore, from the place where the sidewalk ends?
Listen. Follow. Go.
I’ll see you at the far side of the valley.