The addiction of adventure.
My friend is 82. She’s travelled the world already. For her, a rich internal life characterized
by a deep curiosity is adventure enough. It made me wonder when she started
to recognize her own contentment with smaller things. Nadia Boltz Weber
Adventuring has been an avoidance strategy I have used my whole life. Perhaps it was born with me in my life as a military brat…the moves, the having to get comfortable with being unsettled, the never knowing when the school would change or new friends would have to be made.
Friends I made along the way shared rich memories of mom at home, pre-school, church… all American things. In my youngest memories swirled the smell of tatami mats and sliding rice paper walls, art deco fish flags and dancing dragons whose movements were punctuated by Taiko drums. My friends had memories of trikes and car rides. My three year old brain stored memories of the U.S.S. Gaffey and the deck chairs as we crossed the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco, in calm and in storm.
Other kids’ moms cooked and cleaned and welcomed them home from school. Mine started her own business and set us out into the world unsupervised. Other families had friends for dinner, or for cards or for barbecues in the backyard. In eighteen years in our family home, we never had a visitor, except for the day my dad was killed by a drunk driver and the lady next door brought over a foul smelling casserole to comfort us in our grief. It was literally the first time we had exchanged words.
That is not to say mom was not social. While my dad did his soldier thing and then went off to run a theatre at night, she reveled in collecting characters at work, eventually making them part of “our work life”. I say our, because she made child labor a major part of her children’s existence when we were old enough to help.
While our friends played games with neighborhood kids, my younger brother and I would be collating some mimeograph job having contests to see who could do it faster. And there were stuffing envelopes contests and licking envelopes contests, being careful to not have the sharp thin edge cut into our tongues.
The adults in our lives were introduced to us at her place of work and most had recently stepped off the greyhound bus from a station across the street, a street once walked by John Steinbeck in our shared home town.
There was the older man named John, who was a Watcher from Mars, here only to observe those of us on Planet Earth. His stories about outer space were shared as I stood carefully watching the mimeograph barrel circle rhythmically, hoping for no jams.
And there was Erickson, the escapee from a mental institution who lived with Lilly the bird lady in a Miss Haversham style home. The curtains were always drawn against the light and her parakeets fluttered in the dusty light from curtain rod to curtain rod. In a short amount of exposure, I came to learn he saw dead people and had conversations with spirits no one could see. He haunts me still.
It seemed for most of my life I was trapped in situations that wrapped me in a state of dis-ease and from which I could not escape, only disappear. Except for family adventures in nature. On those occasions, I could escape because the first thing my parents would do once we arrived was disappear, leaving four children to be free of any expectations. Only then did my life seem safe.
I couldn’t run from my life then. But set free as an adult I could, and I did. Whenever some growth opportunity reared its painful head. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Whenever I felt my life on the edge of conflict, I moved. I called it adventure.
And thus, adventure became a distraction. From the reality of my circumstance.
But these days, the siren’s call lands on ears damaged by time. The lure of dotted white lines has disappeared in the rear view mirror. Everything I ever have wanted to see, I think I have seen. Everything I wanted to do, I have done. And as the landscape of my heart has undergone exploration and renovation, I have grown weary of my addiction.
And so, I begin a new journey…to stay rooted in one place…
to find contentment in the small things
Because it is in the small things that hope lives... the sun in the morning appearing with its Ta Dah rays over the Santa Rita mountains….a drop of dew clinging delicately on a tiny flower in a jungle of cactus…a sunflower with its face turned towards the morning reflected in a small lake.
Here, in this desert place, I find adventure in turning over stones as prehistoric creatures with frantic legs flee from the light. I move agave plants from one location to another one I have deemed more suitable. But I take great care to keep the siblings together, as I feel they have become accustomed to one another’s sharp embrace, and I cannot bear to separate them. I move gravel from one place to another and back again reveling in the sound of its sharp stone edges hitting the the metal blade of the shovel.
So, like Nadia’s 82 year old friend, I am making friends with small moments.
Around me, war swirls across the globe, and here, in our own borderlands, the dance of hope and the finality of death weave in and out of the dry, sharp landscape of the desert. Sirens scream in the night, and though I hunger for a sense of peace, it eludes me in the onslaught of cruelty that pervades our human landscape.
I feel helpless. I have no where to turn.
And so, in my inadequacy and the paralysis of my heart, I turn to these stones, these pebbles, these plants. I dig in the dirt in the morning heat, and I stand under the night sky and soak in the stars. I cry out to God in the darkness and beg for release of the suffering of this world. For healing. For peace.
And then in the morning light, like Sisyphus of ancient lore, I begin again, finding small things to love and to move again, from one place to another.
In the face of such tragedy bombarding our hearts in the world today, one might find this work of little value or consolation.
But like Camus, I believe that in this never ending task I am learning that “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart…and… imagine Sisyphus happy…”
And in these small moments, so it is with me.