What Was Learned

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. – Charles M. Schulz

For the three of you that are interested, and the occasional spammer who’s not interested but accidentally stumbled onto our little corner of the blogosphere and is trying to sell counterfeit goods in the comments section, I thought I would write an entry to try to answer a question that Tara and I get quite often: what did we learn on our walk?  We get numerous other questions as well, and I hope to answer some of them in a future entry, but “what did you learn,” or some iteration of that question seems to be what most folks want answered.  It’s a hard question to respond to succinctly, so the reply doesn’t lend itself well to free-flowing conversation.  Typically, we’ll give a short answer, maybe share an anecdote from the road, but seldom do we have the opportunity to properly address it.

So, how to do this question justice?  The blog!  This way, if you get tired of the answer or the ostentatious ramblings contained therein, you can simply stop reading.  Giving up and checking your facebook (I even provided you a link) isn’t rude like walking away in the middle of a conversation would be (I won’t know you stopped reading), and I don’t have to feel guilty about providing a lengthy response.  Everyone wins!  Well, all four of us, anyway.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here’s what we learned on our walk.

PEOPLE ARE AWESOME.  I don’t mean like Larry BirdDesmond TutuRosa ParksThe Beatles, and David Hasselhoff are awesome.  I mean like how a family from a small village in New Jersey is awesome.  Or, how retirees tending to their hobby farms in western Pennsylvania are awesome.  Or, how a high-school kid and his parents in central Ohio are awesome.  Or how a homeless person in a big city is awesome.  I could go on and on about all of the amazing people we encountered along our path, but that story has already been told.

The point is everyday people of varying backgrounds and stations in life took care of two strangers.  They did it for no reason other than kindness.  Altruism was on display for us every day, and it was a privilege to witness.  People we talk to seem amazed at all the “luck” we had.  At first, we were too.  But upon reflection, it wasn’t luck so much as it was life.  At least life as it should be.

It sounds a bit contrived, but there’s a saying that goes “The world is like a mirror.  Smile at it and it smiles back.”  It’s true.  There are people all around us that actually derive happiness from helping others and want to befriend us.  They have stories to share.  They’ve got experiences, some happy, some sad, that we can learn from.  Hell, sometimes you, me, we are them.  We just need to look out at the world and see friendships, opportunity, and most importantly love, rather than the perceived enemies and harm we’ve been constantly told are bearing down on us.

Are there bad things out there?  Sure.  But worrying about them won’t do much to protect us.  Instead, it may keep us from attempting the “impossible,” exploring, and experiencing all the special things life has to offer.

TAKE LIFE ONE DAY AT A TIME.  I know it sounds über-cliché.  It conjures images of an old, grizzled prison inmate sharing a life lesson on how he survives each seemingly-hopeless day behind the paint-chipped steel bars that are meant to keep him locked in and all hope locked out.  But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this message just because of its overuse.

When you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of the day, nor where you’ll sleep, or even where you might be able to go to the bathroom, you’re forced to take things one day at time.  Or, in our case, if you’ll forgive the pun, one step at a time.  But here’s something to consider: this approach isn’t just a coping mechanism.  It’s energizing.  To have no ability, or desire for that matter, to plan out the ridiculous minutiae of our futures is liberating.  It forces us to take in and recognize the very moment and place we are in.  Sometimes we can better appreciate the good things.  Sometimes we’ll be more keenly aware of the hard times.  But always we’ll be more cognizant of the moment instead of wasting time trying to control a future we can’t predict.

OUR HAPPINESS IS CONTINGENT ON VERY FEW THINGS AND STUFF.  I think I’ll expand on this at a later date, but it belongs here too, so I’ll touch on it briefly.

We’ve all been had.  There’s an abundance of talented, persuasive, and sometimes conniving marketing professionals that have one mission in life: convincing us to buy their crap.  We don’t need most of it.  It doesn’t make our lives easier.  It certainly doesn’t make us happier.  Sometimes, we’re not even sure what it is.  Tara and I spent two months living off of what we could push in two modified baby strollers.  We spent a few more months living out of our car.  We’ve never been happier even though we’ve never had so little.  Coming home and being surrounded by all of our stuff and things proved stressful and was an affront on our senses.  It stands to reason then, that when it comes to material goods and happiness there is an inverse relationship.  Less is more.

BEARS WILL KILL YOU.  BEARS ARE JUST OVERSIZED RACOONS.  Depending on where you’re from, people have different perceptions of black bears.  If you’re from the Eastern or Western parts of the United States, where black bears are common, they are basically considered a mostly harmless nuisance.  One person actually referred to them as “big raccoons.”  If you’re from the Midwest, where the only bears are in zoos, they are blood-thirsty killers that have one mission: find and eat all people.  After our travels we’ve come to the conclusion that black bears are basically like oversized raccoons that could kill you, but really don’t want to.  Now, about grizzly bears, they will kill you.

RISKS ARE WORTH TAKING, EVEN WHEN YOU FAIL. Our lives are filled with stories of triumph.  There are countless books, articles, news reports, and social media posts detailing the accomplishments of people willing to take a chance or push their limits and achieving unparalleled success.   I love these stories.  They are inspiring.  They matter.

Our story is a little different.  We didn’t succeed in what we set out to do, at least not yet.  But we sure had a great time trying and neither one of us regrets for a moment taking that chance.  So we didn’t make it across the country and that sucks.  But, we met new friends and got to hug old ones.  Our perceptions changed, and we saw incredible things, hilarious things, and disturbing things.  We tested ourselves mentally (and passed that test) and physically (oops).  We even were mentioned on the radio in Los Angeles 1 (how cool is that?).  None of these things would have happened if we hadn’t tried.

CHOCOLATE MILK MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.  No explanation needed.

Notes:

  1. I like to envision a Hollywood star driving down the 405 listening to the radio and for one fleeting moment thinking I was the cool and famous one.