If I were to die today, my tombstone might read: “He lived for 25 years. He was in school for 20 of them.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, being a student is a cushy job. Aside from class times, I set my own hours. Most of my time “working” is spent reading and presumably learning. While not recommended, procrastination isn’t a terminable offense. The problem is that my “challenges” to date, however, have primarily arisen from a curriculum. Surely there must be lessons beyond these confines. I want to be challenged by adventure. I want to be defined by adventure. I want a life-long adventure. Adventure.
And so I seek some solution for those of us who see as arbitrary and inconsequential the various economic, social and political systems of the world. I just don’t see how this world makes any sense. I want adventure, not responsibility. To this end James Michner’s Caravans has been instructive. I must say upfront that I did not find an answer. I did, however, gain a better understanding of the dilema itself.
Before I get into Caravans, allow me to introduce the book by way of bikes and buses.
I dreamt of bikes and buses.
My time in law school has been riddled with day-dreams. I’ve spent countless hours procrastinating on craigslist, looking at bikes and VW vans.
There’s a common thread that wove the two together, though I didn’t see it until I my dad subtly pointed it out, as dads so often do. He saw my wanderlust. He recognized my feelings of inadequacy in the adventure department.
By my age, my mom had traveled around the world, and my dad had started his own business. Me, well, I’ve written some papers…. wanna read ’em? Sure, I’ve hiked, camped and gone on a few road trips. Yes, I’ve seen a Red Sox game. But these weren’t my adventures. I didn’t own them.
This sentiment is clearly not unique to me. In fact, it seems extremely common among my peers. Whose got the coolest pictures of them doing the coolest things on Facebook? I think that the lack of adventure and resulting compensatory actions are a result of the times we live in.
When my parents were young, it sounds like anything goes was how it went. Humans were allowed to play a little faster and looser. Before homeland security checks and stiff penalties for standard kids-being-kids offenses. Back in the good old bad days. Simpler times, right? At other moments I feel like this lack is just a result of my own laziness and woe-is-me attitude, to which I respond: “woe is me for this cursed, piss-poor attitude I have.”
And what of the bike and bus I dreamt of? They symbolized freedom to me and were, quite literally, my vehicles of escapism. Surely, I thought, these would be the devices to lead me on an adventure. I must say, I love my bike and my van. Both have fueled fun and memories. But the deeper feeling of inadequacy persists. While the bike and bus are fine for now, they won’t provide the meaningful and sustainable adventure I seek. Enough about me, let’s get back to the matter at hand.
After my parents diagnosed me with lack-of-adventure-itis, my mom perscribed one of her favorite books, Caravans. The book was a great read and I found the following passage particularly relevant:
When Ellen first joined our group she struck me as one destined for tragedy. . .I saw her as a girl of good intention who was determined to disaffiliate herself with our society, and I wondered if she were strong enough to find something better to rely on.
But when Ellen returned in her second year with increased bitterness, claiming that the world seemed pointless, as if it were interested only in a perpetual Saturday night dance at some cosmic country club, I began to take her malaise more seriously, and I asked my wife to talk with her. Ellen brought her young Haverford boy to dine with us and we found him charming but were forced to agree with her that his ambitions were as ordinary as her father’s.
If you’ve ever felt like the setup of the world around you is not your own, this passage must be resonating. And to bring it home:
“What is my problem?” she asked, and I said, “You have the disease that eats at our world. You cannot find peace in old conventions and beliefs, yet you are not sufficiently committed to anything to forge new ones for yourself.”
Ellen Jaspar is sick with the disease that is beginning to infect our ablest young people. She has disaffiliated herself with the beliefs that gave our society its structure in the past, but she has found no new structure upon which she can rely for that support which every human life requires.
So perhaps I am sick. Perhaps I will continue to drift until I find some new structure to believe in. Perhaps I am your prototypical 25 year-old. Well, so be it. Right now, adventure makes sense to me. Because if I’m doing anything else I’m thinking: “I’d rather be on an adventure.”