Excerpt from the book:
Going: Buena Vista, CO
Mom called me while I was driving back down to Colorado Springs after a weekend spent skiing in Breckenridge. I left her a message a few days before, telling her to call me back because we needed to talk. “I'm going to live with homeless people in Denver this summer” I told her. My poor mother. She’s become a saint by raising me, letting me chase after all my ideas, not worrying too much, or holding me back.
I had graduated college less than a year before and spent all the time since then working at a group home. The home served 15-18 year old kids who came from backgrounds of abuse and neglect too complex for the general public to understand or too horrible for them to want to. Kids who grow up with these type of backgrounds are given the label “at risk” as if they have not already lived their entire life so far past risk, into pain, despair, and the wreckage of decisions not their own. Everything about the job was interesting in both good and painful ways, which made it so all parts of life seemed to have at risk attached. We tried to build healthy relationships, which meant being vulnerable and at risk to the pain which can come from such efforts. There were other ways of being at risk, as the kids brought us into their lives to see what hardship they went through. There were at risk moments when prior gang involvement brought with it some danger when going to the movies or just being at home. At risk moments because some kids would make weapons and hide them under their pillows because sleeping was not a safe experience for them. By the end of the year I had been tackled twice, had a skateboard swung at my head, and got stitches in my elbow after being thrown on my back. The child who threw me on my back had come to the United States by holding onto the top of a train for three days in order escape forceful service as a freedom fighter. Stepping into their world, coming from my own, I became at risk of having my life change because of the beauty of hope from hardship. Seeing how most people lose empathy for kids when they turn 18, no longer children to be viewed innocently as at risk, but whatever un-innocence which comes after, is what spurred my mind to go live with people who have largely become forgotten and voiceless.
My mom told me to think about it. I told her I already had. “Well, we'll see” is all she said, but she said it with the proud uncertainty only a mother who has raised a boy who never listened too much, but did so for the right reasons, can have. I told her to trust me, even though I wasn't sure if I fully trusted myself. She did, and I chose to go regardless of my own confusion, hoping that I might continue to go wild in all the right ways.
I had actually thought about it a lot, and decided to go the month before. I was on a trip with co-workers camping for a few days in Buena Vista, Colorado. We snowshoed the first day, camped in the snow as a group for a night, stayed in a lodge with a big fireplace, and then camped alone for two days. We got to pick out where we would spend our time of solitude. Setting up camp in the trees made the most sense, because there would be less exposure and wind, but I wanted a good view.
I hiked up and out of the trees, my feet breaking through icy sheets of foot deep windblown snow. The site I picked was a slightly less steep portion of the hill covered with unscathed white snow. The only disturbance in the landscape was a half-dead pine tree with a gigantic mangled trunk. I looked to the miles around me, the city of Buena Vista rested in the valley to my left and Mount Princeton sat like God in an armchair to my right. I could not close my eyes to dream of anything more perfect, so I didn’t. I sat on a rock, laid my pack down, and watched my breath fade out into my better-than-a-dream reality.
Eventually, I built camp; making a lean-to out of pine branches, rope, and a blue tarp. I rolled a large log up the hill, wedging rocks underneath it to keep it in place, packing the gaps with snow to make a semi-level foundation for my tent. Then came the task of collecting firewood which consisted of four hours hiking to fallen trees, chopping them up into small sections, and dragging them back to camp. By nightfall I had a stack of firewood big enough to not only stay warm, but burn bright enough to expose a wild part of my soul.
As the sun set, a wind came ripping down from Mt. Princeton through the valley. Thousands of pine trees bent to the left, straight, and left again in a massively orchestrated motion which made the whole landscape appear to be alive, aching and moaning in an anciently deep voice as if the mountain were waking up from a thousand years rest. Heavy snow dropped the entire night like a million whispered secrets landing softly against my lean-to. It was as if God himself leaned down from heaven, spoke softly into my ear and said, “look what I’ve made for you”.
I was not born in the mountains, did not even see one until I was sixteen years old, but once in them I have always felt safe in their presence, as if I belonged. They offer a deep freedom from all of the ways life has cast it’s weight on me. They are the closest thing I have ever felt to being home. So many people never get this feeling of safety, never feel like they belong, never have the warmth of peace coming from a secret place just for them where everything is okay, and never get the calmness of being home. It broke my heart to know peace and know there are people who never get to breathe this peace in.
Ideas of absolute immoderate adventures started rolling through my mind. With a good bit of stepping out, living into the exposure of an at risk life, it seemed possible to find places where beauty had been ripped away and fight so it might return. Gravity came when I realized this was possible; step out of comfort, go be with people who are homeless, be a friend to the friendless, explore my beliefs and faith and God by hurting well for the hope of something beautiful. It was a decision towards loving the world in great depth. Then, almost immediately, I felt too young to be making these decisions or thinking these thoughts. Luckily it was the same type of young which is too excited at the possibilities to care.
No one grows up dreaming to one day think of doing things, we dream of making changes, and like any other time where I found something worth doing I became excited. Still, nothing had actually happened and I wondered if I was truly capable or merely felt it in the moment. Self doubt washed over me, and I realized I was just as much at risk of living a life I didn't want as any kid or person has ever been. I decided, if I have any type of choice in the matter, I wanted a life where things get done.
The only way to get over the fear of not being capable was to go.