I am reminded of when I stood at the freeway entrance, my thumb out, ready to hitchhike off into the unknown, at the start of my first great journey. I wrote about this experience in my memoir, “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search”. You would argue, perhaps, that life itself is a journey, and in a sense you would be right, but I am speaking of physical journeys, of events that take you out of life’s comfort zones into the wildness of challenge and uncertainty.
Of course, all adventures need not be travel adventures, journeys from one place to another. Many of them are. In “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” Both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins were common ordinary Hobbits until they hit the road. In their cases they did not voluntarily embark on their quests but had to be pushed out; however, the decision was theirs. They could have stayed in their comfortable holes but they chose not to. But another story comes to mind, that of the couple at the beginning of “Up”, the wonderful animated film by Pixar. When they were young they both craved travel to faraway places, but it never happened. They lived a quiet life together until the woman died, but nevertheless she referred to the time they spent together as a great adventure. Yes. This too can be true. A committed relationship can be a marvelous adventure, as can having children, as can working at a career that stimulates and fulfils you, as can many other things. For me personally, especially when I was young and just starting to wonder what life was all about, discovering certain key books like “The Lord of the Rings”, “On the Road”, “Tropic of Cancer”, “Walden”, and “Stranger in a Strange Land” were terrific experiences.
So adventure can be different things to different people, depending on their backgrounds and talents and proclivities and resources. But there is a common denominator.
We all have a tendency to be somewhat like hermit crabs. We keep a shell around ourselves and crawl from place to place with it intact, thinking to shield ourselves from danger. The shell is composed of familiar things: the location we grew up in, family and friends and acquaintances with whom we are comfortable, job or school or other fixed routine. Some people spend their whole lives within one shell, never venturing outside, never putting themselves at risk. But to grow, even a hermit crab needs to leave the familiar comfort of the shell to find a larger shell. And for us to grow as human beings we need to leave the safety of the familiar and try something new, something different. Once we venture forth we do not always stay out in the wild; sometimes we wander for a time and then construct another shell around ourselves. The shell in itself is not bad. It is a survival tool, a defense mechanism. The world is, in many ways, a nasty place full of real dangers, and we need to be concerned about our safety. But not to the exclusion of everything else.
I was very timid, very frightened when I was young. Books provided an escape but there is a danger in books or films: they are meant to be a stimulus, a catalyst, but they are not the real thing. I knew I had to get out and experience what life was all about, especially when I knew I had to be a writer, but I was afraid. It was that simple. I was afraid. I stewed in my juices for years, unwilling to take the first step. That’s why, when I finally did take the step, that first moment at the freeway entrance was such a transcendental experience. I was going off into the unknown with only my duffle bag and the clothes on my back. I had no idea what I would do, where I would end up. But it didn’t matter. I had broken free. I could go wherever the winds of destiny carried me.
This all came up because I am, at almost sixty years of age, contemplating another major change in my life about which I cannot at this time speak. But it is the same situation whatever your age. Adventures might call at any time, in any place. I’m not talking about forsaking your responsibilities, deserting your post. I am talking about life-changes carefully thought out, open doors through which you can walk if you dare, opportunities that will bring growth to all and pain to none. But adventures always involve risk. Often, though, the perceived risk is a phantom, a nonentity, a puff of air that may appear to be a dragon but will blow away as soon as you take the first step.
When you know what you need to do, you just have to do it. That’s all. If you don’t do it you are doomed to oblivion. If you do it you are destined for greatness.