Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adventure Philosophy

(Written in June of 2010)

On my way to Boston this past week, I lost my cell phone at 20,000 feet off the ground, right above, oh let’s say, D.C. You know the feeling, don’t you? The world shrinks to the size of the airplane seat. All other problems of the universe gape at this moment of isolation—the sacred cell is missing. The connection to safety has been severed bringing that tickle of terror in the top of your torso, a flutter of fear in your heart.
I groped in the dark recesses of my carryon bag, around an obstacle course of lotion bottles, books, pencils, hair brushes, and headphone cords which laced like tentacles around my hand. My fingers crawled at least three times across every inch of the bag, grasping in vain for the plastic phone.
Pulling everything out onto my lap, I pushed down the impulse to panic. Finally, I repacked my bag and settled back in the seat, resigning myself to the reality that my phone had been crushed in Atlanta by one of those carts that take elderly and obese people from terminal to terminal, or was currently being pawed by a greasy fingered, unattended child who was at that moment making expensive calls to random parts of the world.
Looking out the window at the Monopoly landscape below, I shrugged; I was still alive and gliding toward the Maine coast, a lobster, and spending time with the friend sitting next to me. This newly discovered inconvenience was just one more layer on my adventure.
Here lately, that’s how I’ve regarded any deviation from the ordinary—and sometimes, yes, especially the ordinary itself. If I’m not in the hospital, in jail, or the morgue, I’m just fine (this attitude having been cultivated during any number of my unintentional jaunts around the bad part of Atlanta). I’ve seen what worry can do, seen it devour joy for breakfast, contentment for lunch, and common sense for a snack in between. I want no part of this destructive tendency for myself—not anymore. So instead of allowing worry to control me, I sit back and see what’s in the adventure for me to enjoy or learn. Irresponsible, unrealistic you call me? Maybe; but I don’t think so.
My choosing to view life’s perturbing moments as an adventure is really no different from another person’s tendency to view them as a drama or a crisis. I’d rather face my life as an adventure—for as uncomfortable, disappointing, or inconvenient as this life may be, everyday IS an adventure waiting to happen. Please don’t mistake me for a starry-eyed romantic or a dramatic, or—good grief— for Anne of Green Gables. I know just what kind of world it is in which I dwell: it’s got no room for another person just out of reality’s reach. So let me explain.
Adventure—what does it mean to you? For a long time, the word held an expansive definition to me. Erroneously, I assumed that an adventure was a life or death quest of National Geographic proportions with an exotic backdrop. A few years ago, though, the word took on a new meaning to me. Perhaps it came from getting too many people frustrated with my carefulness or tendency to panic. Or maybe I just got tired of nearly losing control of my body functions whenever I was forced into a new situation.
I lived the first eighteen years of my life wrapped in a chrysalis, of sorts, if only, perhaps, a chrysalis of protection. Homeschooled and awkward, I, convinced of my inability to survive outside the protective silk, was content to stay wrapped inside. I’ve often wondered if a butterfly left in its chrysalis would fade or mold.
A year after I graduated from high school, plagued with debilitating fears and a sense that things couldn’t possibly be worse, I worked as a counselor at a summer camp for special needs people. There I was exposed to individuals and circumstances that helped me poke my head out of the chrysalis to a world that would indeed accept me, a world that I could survive in and that I was curious about. Thinking back on it that was the perfect place for my emerging—a place where everyone was accepted.
My next step was a butterfly’s equivalent of flying off the branch where it had been drying its wings. When I went to college, God began to further help me overcome my fear by providing patient friends who coaxed me off that branch that I had been chrisalised on for those years. They helped me step outside my comfort zones and take part in things that I hadn’t before. I won’t lie—it took a few times of stumbling for me to realize that the leap was worth a fall.
I stopped looking at what could happen, and started looking for what might happen—many things could happen (meaning have the ability to happen)—no doubt, disaster is just a strand of grace away. But what might happen (denoting my permission) depends upon two things: my willingness to accept an adventure when presented with one and my initiative to make an adventure happen—no matter how scared I am of it.
Adventure, after all, has very little to do with the venture itself and everything to do with the danger, the fear that you perform in spite of, no matter how small or innocuous it may be.
When an adventure stares me in the face, I have to take it up on its challenge. Whether it’s a jet ski idling in water which very easily could drown me. Or a raw oyster which potentially could induce vomiting. Or an empty seat beside a handsome man which could turn out to be yet another episode of social awkwardness. Taking on adventures has become an intricate part of who I am. I’ve even come to peace with being directionally challenged, reasoning that it’s just a means of meeting wonderful people when I stop and ask for directions.
But along with understanding that life is full of adventures, I’ve come to view life as a grand adventure itself. I’ve begun to understand what is in me—the capacity to explore and with exploring to understand some greater aspect of the world around me and, most excitingly, of who God is and what He has done in orchestrating my life story.
Everything happens for a reason. Now, I don’t mean a preemptive reason—I don’t believe that God slashes your tire so that you can avoid an accident down the road. But I believe that in that slashed tired you can learn patience, you can share Christ with the person who helps you change it—which of course would be the greatest adventure of all.
I won’t say there aren’t days when I don’t wish to be living in a future chapter or to turn the page back and rework the plot minus a few ‘adventures.’ I won’t say there aren’t still moments when fear overwhelms me, when worry wears a hole in my gut. But it’s when I can wholly leave behind the chrysalis of worry, fear, or insecurity that I can finally see the bigger picture that I am meant to change and be changed on this planet, even if not for this planet. And it’s through those moments of danger or discomfort or unsureness that I am formed and transformed. Life is an experience and if you’re not going to experience it fully, you might as well just curl up and die.
It’s this sort of opportunity that I see, peering out the bus window just now on my way back to the Boston airport. It’s how I look at the empty seat next to me where a passenger might choose to sit at the next stop, where a smile could launch a conversation that could cultivate a friendship that could last for a lifetime. Even the unknown is an adventure.
By the way, I found my phone lodged between me and my seat buckle when I stood to leave the plane in Boston. For as much as I’m always thankful for an adventure, I’m glad when discomfort or inconvenience can be averted.

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