This is the third chapter from the book I’m pushing towards publication. The book is titled “Same Skies” and chronicles the summer I spent living intentionally homeless in Denver, CO. This chapter talks about considering adventure, risk, and going after what you want most in life.
( Lessons from Lake Michigan )
“Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.”
Spring in Southwest Michigan brings the sun back to cold air and life back to the Big Lake. Pier jumping into Lake Michigan is, despite or perhaps because of the danger, perfectly inviting for the youthful heart. Most of us were born and bred Michiganders. If you can point to the left side of your right palm to show people where home is, it means you are more likely than not a water oriented person - well aware and taking into account the risks of cold temperatures and rip currents, but even with these dangers it feels built into your souls from a young age to jump.
I enjoy the anticipation on the pier, but most of all I love the moment after leaving the cement when there is nothing below but empty air, the laws of gravity, and a floor of ice cold water ten feet down. I love the feeling of being deep under the water, so alive. I wish I could go to school to study that feeling, reading about it in textbooks, highlighting the good parts and writing papers on why we should chase after deep water.
No one who has gone on an adventure, even dangerous ones, ever tells much of the story with regret or shame. I do not at all intend to die on any of my adventures, but even those who don’t make it through leave their loved ones being able to say, although they would greatly regret dying, they would never regret how they had lived. Conventional thoughts on safety are rational in terms of not dying but can be conversely irrational when it comes to living in the quality sense. I’ve seen people stop living for the sake of not going into what they don't know. I've seen people sacrifice what they want the most in their years of life for what they want in a single solitary moment. I don't want that. I want the adventures that draw me in. I want to stay captivated. Deep water has its risks, but I'm quite sure the moments following the risk have saved far many more lives than they have taken. I want to experience the deep water of my soul.
This all feels like a good thing, but at the same time, I do fear. I fear dying. I fear getting too depressed. I fear what other people think about me if I'm depressed at all. I fear I'm going to be too weird, or overthink, or be too obsessed with the idea that I just annoy people. I fear the idea most adventures are not taken by people who are accompanied by the insecurities I have.
My ideas often feel like things anyone other than me should be doing. I don't feel good enough to see them through but would never put the burden on anyone else to do so. In the end, it will be impossible to feel only precisely how I would like to. Most of the time it seems I would not take a risk, go on an adventure, or might choose the wrong thing over the right one not because I am incapable, but because I have yet to learn how capable I really am. A good life will take getting past a lot of unattractive emotions to go out and do, experience the attractive emotions in life which most often come just past adversity. The other, more capable, person who I imagine would do fine with all my worry is a person I have made up, a myth of impossible qualities. People putting themselves in a situation despite how they feel trumps being brave or good or perfect enough. Given this I have decided when it comes to my wish and my story, I must believe people are built to last, not fail. I have to trust the same is true with me.
All this is unraveling because I have finally left Chris' place and an adventure is becoming my adventure. All the insecurities and looming feelings of failure I struggle with are rising to the surface. Focusing mainly on the confident parts, highlighting heroics and such, is pointless. I grew up in a small town with a split up family and a lot of unsolved problems. I have no personal right to confidence. I feel nothing like I imagine the people I look up to feel. I believe everyone at some time in their life will be tempted to believe the worst about themselves, some more than others. We need to choose to see the best in ourselves because while everyone has great doubt we also have great potential. Even the people I look up to had both parts, so it seems people who do extraordinary things are merely ordinary people who find some way to get past worry or merely live in it without it affecting their decisions negatively.
In all this, I remember the edge of the pier. I remember how great things push back not and cause me to worry not because they should be avoided, but precisely because they carry weight and it matters what happens. In the end, I can't always pick and choose how I want to feel, only how I want to live.
I have to be okay with all the insecurities now, because the rays of sunlight carry weight as they fall heavy from the sky, pressing heat into my skin and shaggy hair. I'm walking to the city, and I'm not sure of what I want to do; shut my eyes and block everything out or take it all in. It’s easy for me to block out details. I called it “mind off” when I was a kid – a practiced attempt block out being yelled and screamed at and shaken to the point of tears in my bed. It helped me get through those hard times, but this is a choice - a jump over deep water and I want to remember the snapshots; the plane overhead carrying people to God-knows-where, the cars shooting people by on the street, the scrape of gravel underneath my feet the same as it sounded walking to my bus stop when I was a kid. Focusing on how most of today's worries turn out to be a small matter next week, gone in a month, and next year barely a memory helps. I don't know where I will sleep tonight, where I'll eat, what I will eat, if I will eat, where I will go, who I will meet, or what I will do. I merely trust I will be ok. I will walk to town, find a place to sleep, find food, and come back to Chris’ once or twice a week to write on a blog so people know a bit of what is going on. There is also a girl, Amber. I met her at the summer camp I just took the Dale House kids to and may give myself the luxury of trying to call. In six weeks, I will walk back one last time, end the adventure right where it started. It will be good and done, and I will go to friends weddings at the end of the summer. All this will be many memories which positively shape me. This is how I rationalize everything. Life would be easier if my faith in life took away worry and fear and a lack of confidence, but faith has a lot to do with remembering emotion will come and go. Faith does not feel like the Christian struggle of who is wrong and right or what laws should be made or who is to blame for things but is a reminder of what not take root in and keep moving through because of a belief in good, a belief that things can get better. This faith requires more than merely not avoiding my fears. If I'm ever going to overcome my demons, I've got to invite them to dinner, play host, ask them to stay for dessert, intellectually listen to them pleading their case and, finally, realize they won't kill me.
These things can't be experienced unless actions are taken: a drive to the beach, walking the pier, working up some guts, and jumping in the water. The other option would be to have the idea of jumping but stop from getting in the car, or never get out of the car, or stop just short of making the leap at the edge, or just watch as other people jumped without actually understanding the experience for myself.
A Greek Stoic philosopher named Epictetus addressed a lot of these thoughts when he said, “Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.” I don't want to live a suffering life, but the mystery is bound up in what is uncontrollable and what is within my power. There is no way I could wrap my mind around everything, take in all the external factors and plug in the decisions of other people. I'm coming to terms with this is all being unmanageable.
In the middle of all this thinking, the trees have started to duck away. The highway divides the line of suburbia and the city is revealed in the quiet grandeur only a city can have when seen from a distant hilltop. Everything heads downhill into the city, the landscape hinting this is a good way to go; down the hill, past the suburbs and comfort, to a good place to reach out and learn. My feet scrape the pavement, I find a pebble to kick, and kick it again and again. I follow it down the sidewalk towards Denver.
Life is unmanageable. I'm unmanageable. The things I have always tried to get better at or figure out, like confidence or loving or reasoning or merely being good at whatever thing I choose to do, are all quite the opposite of manageable. My only responsibility is to know these things, expect not to be ready, and try not to manage an unmanageable life. Instead, I hope to appropriately soak life up like cold and silence ten feet under water. I'm not asked to be well put together. I'm not asked or told to stop thinking or limit myself or my thoughts to those which are appeasing. Ultimately, being a complete mess is quite fine.
This is deep water. I hope it lasts forever.