Have you ever gone on an adventure? A real, honest-to-goodness, bona fide feat of daring? Think about it. Maybe you’ve never done anything that would result in the movie of your life being classified with Indiana Jones, but that doesn’t mean you’ve never answered the wild call of the spirit that makes a person want to step into the street and knock a stranger’s hat off his head. In fact, I almost think that if we ignore that whispering puck in the back of our minds for too long we start to die inside, a little bit at a time.
When I was an undergrad student in the fair city of Portland, Maine, the tug of adventure was like a river current winding around the lives of most of my friends. Have you ever played manhunt at night using a city as your playground? Have you ever chosen to walk down the meridian instead of the sidewalk? Have you ever let the Atlantic kiss your bare toes at midnight in early spring? Have you ever bent the will of a bureaucracy to accommodate your whim for a last minute trip to New York?
Those tiny rebellions, those finite insanities, make up the milestones on the map of my first explorations into adult life. I remember, on more than one occasion, climbing into the passenger seat of my roommate’s car during the middle of a blizzard to drive to the mall under the worst road conditions possible for no better reason than an itching need to feel alive and connected to the world. I white-knuckled the door handle the entire way there and back, but the feeling of risking what felt like everything to simply not be cocooned in my blankets, hot cocoa, and video games for an hour or two was worth the fear.
When did it leave me, and where has it gone? I had a surprising moment of self-awareness this weekend when John and I ended up snowed in in Maine for an extra day and half. We left John’s folks’ house a few hours before the blizzard ended on Monday, thinking it had let up, imagining we could rough the drive out to Portland and find smoother driving there. I have never driven in worse conditions in my life, nor do I hope to ever again. We couldn’t see three hundred feet in front of us, the road was plastered with snow, and my wipers couldn’t keep up with the icy mess.
That’s what the state is warning you of, apparently, when they declare a state of emergency, as my dad explained to us when we decided to stop at my parents’ house to wait out the storm. Had we understood the direness of the situation before we’d left John’s parents, we’d have stayed put, but in our inexperience, we got on the highway, which in central Maine means that it was easier to keep going thirty miles south than it was to turn around at the next exit. We gritted our teeth and went.
Clearly, I am neither old nor wise enough to always avoid dangerous situations that, when you come down to it, are quite easily avoidable. On the flip side, I discovered that neither am I young and wild enough to enjoy the adrenaline coursing through my veins while my life is in danger. Instead of enthusiasm for what could be a great story, I was anxious for our safety, restless to be home. Frustrated that we hadn’t left early Sunday to beat the storm. Angry that the weather was so very, very badly timed for our holiday plans.
It’s an inflexibility of attitude more like Ahab’s than Ishmael’s, and it worries me to see it in myself. Fear has always been a parrot on my shoulder, repainting the world to me in somewhat darker tones. I live and love life best when I remember how to play the mockingbird and turn fear’s dour dirge into a joke. So how do you keep that as you get older? How do you hold onto the bright sense of adventure? How do you remember the trick of laughing as the wind blows?