In any classical epic tale, a hero must find his/her strength by embarking on a journey and tackling a daunting challenge far from the security and familiarity of home. We might wonder why it is necessary for the hero to leave home in order to be great…I mean, can’t he or she perform these amazing feats a little bit closer to the couch? In our shared all-too mortal experience, I guess it’s analogous to graduating to a bicycle. At some point you have to abandon those training wheels on your first two-wheeler; because as long as you know they’re there, you will rely on them. Letting go of security is definitely a scary proposition; our anxious mind conjures all the catastrophes that will assuredly occur when they are gone. However, it’s not until you remove the safety net of those two little wheels, that the adventure begins…and you find out what you’re really made of. Out there on your own, you can’t fall back on your reputation, your family name, or past achievements. Only once all that history is wiped away do you realize it was really always up to you all along. And, as a wise man once said, in reality we had nothing to fear, but fear itself.
“How do geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown.”
— Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Ashley left home the other day and flew to Iowa. She’s never been one to stray too far from home, never ventured too far from the tried-and-true of softball and soccer, family and familiar. But, in order to fully pursue her dreams, she had to swallow her fears and trust the unknown. Of course, in reality, the truly uncharted territory opening before her isn’t the geography of the Heartland at all. It’s not even those frightening tornadoes with their destructive winds and unpredictability. The greatest familiar comfort and surprising discovery will be found in no more exotic locale than sweet small-town Ashley. No matter the particular challenges on this leg of her journey, the Ashley that returns home will not be the exact same girl who boarded the plane the other day.
I think of my own daughter as she prepares to leave home at the end of the week. Her journey will transport her to the unparalleled pressure-cooker of New York. The noise, the energy, the crush of the masses — positive and negative forces — swirling in its own funnel of the best and worst that society can muster. Emma will test her mettle in the crucible..and she will be sculpted and burnished with the heat of the blast-furnace. My little girl, my baby, will emerge a young woman transformed.
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
— Joseph Campbell
I too am getting ready to push-off from shore. I am starting to pack my bag with my essentials — a scented flameless-candle that will evoke the cinnamon and vanilla musk of home, a mug with a facsimile of my cat Bootsie on its face, a purple pen gifted to me by my friend Kristin…books from Kelly and Tina, packets of green tea, a photo album, and my favorite pillow. My journey will take me from the safety of my cozy home nestled in the woods along the Deer River to Hope Lodge in Burlington for the next seven weeks of cancer treatment. I will come home on weekends…but during the week, I will be a stranger in a strange land, trying to make a home for myself among fellow travelers on their separate, yet common, journeys to health.
It was not an easy decision to make; there is a treatment center closer to home that would allow me to remain on my own familiar turf. But, after listening to my care-team and family, I opted for the best treatment option for my long-term health. It will not be the easiest route, but it is the one that I must take. And, when it is over, I hope that despite the various challenges; that I too will emerge transformed — stronger, braver, and healed.
If you live long enough, you discover that life offers many of these “opportunities” for journeys — and whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual — each adventure requires us to leave the landscape of the safe and familiar to venture into the unknown. One thing upon which we can always rely, is that each venture is bound to be scary; fraught with dangers and risks — some calculated, some not. Regardless, in the end, each journey with all its challenges, forges us anew. And, although we may never return to our earlier pristine state…the scars and blemishes we acquire on the way become the testament to our experience…to living itself.
“What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.” — Joseph Campbell
Wherever the path may lead, friend; bravely travel on...and when you finally reach your destination, may you blissfully find your very best self.