There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The long-awaited release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has gotten me thinking about journeys, and my own, in particular. In my lifetime, I have only met one person whose journey has been, well, expected. As I stood there listening to him reel off the list of calamities he’d escaped (major illness, financial setback, divorce, rebellious children, the loss of a loved one) I thought to myself, “Just wait, buddy. Your time is coming.” And it is and probably has, by now.
Not that I wish ill of anyone. Far from it. If anything, I wish the whole lot of us were immune. But we’re not.
I was just 14 when my parents received the news that my 23 year-old brother, Lawrence, had fallen to his death while climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland. Lawrence was getting his Masters at the University of Edinburgh. He’d been accepted into Yale Divinity School. And he had recently proposed to the girl he loved. Now all those hopes and dreams lay shattered—along with my innocence—at the bottom of that mountain.
As I crawled into bed that night, I had an epiphany: Life is short, so go for it. Take risks. Dream big.
I’d always understood that life was a journey. Now I felt an urgency to begin my own.
Significant Journey #1: I’d just finished my freshman year of college when I declared my independence, moved away from my parents, and moved to the beach. It was a magical summer. I forged new friendships, broke a few hearts, and had mine broken, too. When the time came to return to school, I made the decision to stay (Remember? Take risks). Then, one by one, my friends packed up and left. And the magic left, too. I’d come to this place to find myself. What I found was this: When you take risks, you risk pain. Ouch.
Significant Journey #2: A year and a half later, I was living in a sparsely furnished apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. I’d left college once again and headed to the Big Apple to find fame and fortune (Take risks). I wanted to be a cover girl, and nothing less would do (Dream big). Bright-eyed and innocent, I pounded the pavement while The City pounded me. I signed with a top agency and was told “if I played my cards right” I could land a million dollar contract (Life is short, so go for it). But trying to navigate that treacherous climb to the top at the tender age of 20 was just too much (Dream big, risk failing big). So one afternoon I walked to Penn Station and slipped away quietly on a train heading south.
There have been many journeys since then, too numerous to mention. What were some of the most unexpected? Having twins. Becoming a teacher. Returning to modeling at age 44. Being diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting divorced. (I did finally finish college, by the way). I suppose the most exciting and unexpected, by far, has been my journey of faith.
Just before Bilbo and the dwarves head into Mirkwood, Gandalf leaves them with this, There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.
Despite the difficulties, I have learned to press on and expect the unexpected. Because I know what Bilbo and the dwarves soon discover: there is always an adventure waiting just around the bend.