Before visiting Budapest, I had no real expectations or idea about what I would see, feel, or do. I did take some time to learn a few bits of the Hungarian language, which allowed me to more easily connect with the locals. Once I opened the dialogue with their native words, they were accommodating and switched to English. The young people spoke nearly perfect English, and I learned about the recent history out of communism. Budapest felt like a very free city, and it wasn’t until my final trek to the bus station that I realized I hadn’t seen a single law enforcement officer or military personnel during my week there. I don’t know what daily life is like as a resident of Budapest, but I do believe that Americans have some growth opportunities to learn from the resourcefulness, creativity, and expression apparent in this city.
It was a week ago to this day that I closed my position at the environmental justice non-profit in northern California, and said goodbye to friends, coworkers, and the life that had become familiar for two years. I felt no sadness, as my return to my own personal wilderness was manifest from a plan sketched in my mental notes a year earlier. It was closure and peace, and in the final months of my time, I visited old friends from grad school and connections from my Red Cross days, people I had not seen for years.
A comfortable awareness of transition eased the relationships along, and in each interaction, I felt profound gratitude that my life had shared space with these individuals for a moment in time. As I shook hands and said goodbye to the Executive Director at the non-profit where I had worked, he said, “thanks for stopping by,” and that went on to explain that’s how life is; we come into one place, meet people, gather experiences, and then continue onto somewhere else. Spoken like a true nomad.
The day after my job was done, I wasted no time getting on the road. I packed my car with what remained of my belongings, trimmed down to the essentials of camping gear, clothing, a single bin of household goods, and my dog, and crossed Monitor Pass south of Tahoe to pick up California’s legendary Highway 395.
I paid $5.00 per gallon for gasoline in Lee Vining beside the ancient Mono Lake, phoned a friend back east while borrowing WIFI signal in a McDonald’s parking lot, and camped beneath the distant roar of thunder in Big Pine. The next day, I detoured far south to Long Beach to relax at a friend’s house with her beautiful family, and she and I laughed together as my dog played tag with her three year old son. We planned our professional futures, discussed the class struggle, and noted the temporality of life itself.
Now with an expansive desert between myself and California, the moments feel antiquated, like they unfolded in another lifetime, and this body has already lifted itself from those roots. From where I sit on this outdoor patio at a vegan coffee shop in downtown Ogden, Utah, I see only the mountains before me, and their new challenges to overcome. It’s northward from here.
We all know, intellectually, that life is short, that time slips away, that unfulfilled dreams never die, and that in the end we will want more love and not really care much about money. Those truths are more difficult to grasp and build as tangible foundations on our earth in the chaos of economic volatility, global injustice, and the president or some other celebrity’s latest inflammatory tweet. Let’s slow down, find whatever gives us faith, and enter the wilderness. If we are afraid to cross the desert and the mountains, we will never know what’s waiting on the other side.
A few years ago, I spent five months backpacking through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. I covered roughly 10,500 miles on the ground, traveling between sweltering below sea level jungles, to breathless high-elevation mountain tops. Although I stayed in hostels and showered if possible, it was difficult none-the-less to live out of a backpack for about 150 days and nights, especially when roaming through so many climate zones. While I learned plenty of tangible skills, the deepest lessons are philosophical, and I am still integrating them into my life years later.
Negotiate a balance between control and chaos.
Circumstance is an unknown variable in the formula of time. Although we might think we know our next three moves, elements beyond our scope of action could interfere. Reality is a shared manifestation between our own desires and the wishes of countless other factors. Keep the vision loose, and observe obstacles on the horizon. Outline contingencies and alternative paths when important outcomes are at stake; if nothing much is at stake, allow for cosmic alignment to guide the decision. On a day of abundance, flip a coin. On a day of scarcity, measure all possibilities and choose the most conservative option. Some things can be known, but the future is untold.
Life is a temporary arrangement. We are accustomed to believe that a place is “ours,” that we have a home and it belongs to “us,” but even those people and those spaces that we inhabit once the adventure is closed will someday fade into the archives of our moment of time on this planet. We are all travelers, but some of us move more often and move faster than others. We are all nomads who haul our belongings behind us, but some of us drag a much smaller heap. The less baggage we carry, the easier to accept our own impermanence. No matter how beautiful the sunset over a canyon, the morning dew upon a meadow, the touch of a lover, the laughter in an impossible friendship, the moment will end. Appreciate what it is, a fleeting blessing. Accept it, and carry on.
Choices between competing options are an inevitable consequence of the attempt to live fully, to dream grandly, and to grow abundantly. It is impossible to accomplish everything, to meet everyone, and to experience the destinations along all the paths through life. A full cup gives as much nourishment as one that overflows, without the waste. Decide what is most important to see, to do, to become, and travel fully in that direction. We can always look back, but that creates a risk of becoming stuck travelling one length of road over and over again. It is an expansive world. Try to focus.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Thanks, Mark Twain. Let’s get started.