Adventure is a loaded word. I hear it tossed around by high school students who long for an absence of parents and a presence of new. I hear it dreamed about by people my age, seeking change, purpose. I hear it whispering in my own mind: Find an adventure before you get stuck.
The adjectival form of adventure is adventurous, and there are two definitions:
1. inclined or willing to engage in adventures.
2. full of risk; requiring courage; hazardous.
Of course, we’d prefer the former rather than the latter; to be considered one who were “hazardous” would hardly lend itself to warm feelings of comfort or trust.
But to be thought of as “willing to engage in adventures”? This may be the tallest idol of modern humanity.
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I spent hours writing the script to “Little House in the Big Woods,” the first play I ever wrote. I learned to type on my family’s first computer — a huge Gateway that arrived in multiple boxes with black and white splotches like a Holstein cow that were so large my little brother used them to build forts — and I agonized over every detail. What would Laura have actually said? What was that thing called they used to make butter again?
I agonized because I was obsessed. I dreamed of the prairie with its sea of gold and the endless sky, the idea of which both scared me and filled me with a deep tingle of excitement. Because I was only seven and too young to embark on a journey cross country on my own, I collected books. Every birthday, every Christmas, I would ask for the next book in the “Little House” series, hoping somehow to absorb Laura’s gumption, Mary’s kindness, and Pa’s fearlessness.
Instead of traipsing across Kansas, I learned to knit socks and sew dresses.
Instead of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, I canned tomatoes and made a terrible ginger/brown sugar/vinegar drink.
Instead of breaking through the ice of the water bucket every morning to wash my face, I raised a flock of chickens and planted an herb garden outside our kitchen window.
I never did see the prairie, but I can make a mean cabled sweater.
Sometimes, when people try to describe you, they find a word that, on the surface, might be benign, but when applied with just the right pressure makes you feel worthless.
You’re just not adventurous enough.
No one had ever said that to me before, and I shot back with all the reasons I was, indeed, adventurous:
- I studied abroad!
- I took a job I never expected to take, I put my heart and soul into it, and I’m good at it!
- I got my master’s while I worked, juggling both with slightly less agility than a hippopotamus!
- I routinely took a risk to trust others and love them, to fight back my fear of being open!
And as I said these things, the biggest one was this:
5. I stayed home. (This one did not seem to have the exclamation point.)
Because here was the crux of the issue: while so many had moved to Italy or California or D.C., I had moved home.
My risk was trusting that this new and un-sought-for path was the right one.
My risk was trusting that the work that needed to be done in me could be done from the comfort (and challenge) of living with my own parents.
My risk was hoping someone would love me and see me for the adventurous young woman I am.
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As I enjoy the days of summer with all the planning for fall they bring, I have already become more contemplative. I’m awaiting (or moving toward? or eagerly looking forward to? or unbelievably scared of and excited for?) marriage to a man whose very calmness is shocking to me. He does not worry about being adventurous — instead, he sees all of life as something to challenge and grow and shape him.
I’m entering into a family that embraces forms of newness and oldness and all that’s in-between. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be one of them, and they have things to learn about me. So far, we’ve done so over a shared love of Mary Oliver, the ocean, God, and music.
Marriage is no more an adventure than singleness.
Working through life with your blood family is no less of an adventure than gaining a new family, and crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is no more of an adventure than staying home and breaking your back to make this life work.
You can cross the world with a trembling soul.
You can climb a mountain just to prove someone wrong.
You can drop everything and start over, but instead of running towards something, find that you’re just running away.
But you can also stay with the familiar out of fear, and that’s no better.
It isn’t what you do that makes you adventurous, it’s the spirit with which you live every moment.
[Photo #2 credit: Gabriel Knell]