A good friend of mine recently sent me a photo of his daughter wandering along a beach in Portugal. He captioned the photo with: “There is something inspiring about the meandering footprints of a child contrasted with [the] linear path of adults.”
When did we stop wandering?
If you’ve tried online dating for half a minute, you’ve certainly come across someone who claims to be a “wanderlust”, as if it’s some special quality that makes him/her desirable. It implies that he/she wants to travel and see the world and be free from constraint. It suggests that he/she is fully in favour of adventure and the unknown and can hang his/her hat on any rack, in any room, in any city.
You only find out how boring that person is when you take him/her on a date. They are sure to tell you about how much they’ve travelled and what their next destination is.
A child’s wandering footprints suggest something different, something authentic. That child has found wonder on a long stretch of sand. There is nothing but sand from the boardwalk to the sea and yet the child – this wandering soul – is drawn to each grain as if it, itself, is unique. Each grain of sand has its own story, its own mystery to reveal, its own place in the world. Without any one of them, the beach would be incomplete.
Somehow, children know this. When in the trajectory of becoming an adult did we forget this? When did the world become a long stretch of sand and not the collection of uniquely formed granules of sand?
Why do we adults walk straight to our destination, our place in the sand, instead of taking the long way ’round? On our way, we complain about the weight of the folding chair we have to carry and wish that the parking lot were closer. We look out at the sea and think about how majestic it could be if it were surrounded by nothing – an island – while checking our iPhones for a text message or email from the people we want to hear from but not speak to. And, then, too, we regret not upgrading that iPhone to the one with the better camera while taking a photo to post on Instagram.
My friend sent me a Live Photo – the ones that are actually short, 2-second, movies. His daughter was digging in the sand! She had walked a path that was so nonsensical to get to a place where she then had to dig in the sand with her hands. She just huddled over and started digging, looking for more. Fuck the sea, and fuck the rest of the sand, she had to go deeper to find what she couldn’t see.
What sort of imagination figures that it’s best to look for what isn’t there?
I recently received a text message from my boss. In it, he expressed appreciation for the work that I do. My first thought was, “What is this guy trying to say?” I know that I have trouble accepting compliments, but this was too much. It was late on a Sunday night and he used Siri to send the text. Siri got it wrong so he sent a follow-up text. He doesn’t punctuate well. Still, I couldn’t let go of the notion that he was trying to do more than just send his appreciation. I went straight to my conclusion.
When I saw him on Monday morning, I abruptly thanked him for the text message.
What would it be like to look at the world for what it is? What would it be like to be fascinated and curious about everything we see? Why can’t we ever remember what this phase of our lives was like?
When did answers supersede the importance of questions?
I, myself, am wrought with guilt. Every mistake that I’ve made overshadows any good that I’ve done.
Thinking practically, those mistakes are the foundation on which my successes are built. My mistakes are the result of the testing ground that is my inquisition. But, I’m full of regret.
I once told a woman I was dating that I want my tombstone to read: “Here lies a man full of regret.”
While it remains true, I also want to be cremated.
Regret, I think, is a catalyst for change. It’s important to know what you think should be changed. Regretting something is the best way for you to know what you need to change.
I don’t recycle or compost enough.
But, what would it be like to live in a world devoid of regret? What would it be like to live fully? What would it be like to look at the world without any understanding, full of amazement, and see only the paths created by your wonder?
If my life has taught me anything, it’s that there are no straight paths to any destination. Everything that has come to me in life has been the result of work. Looking for the straight line, the clearest path, is fruitless. Nothing is interesting if it’s easy and clear.
Still, I spend my days looking for the only way to where I want to get.
I want to wander. I want that part of my childhood back. I’m not a wanderlust. I’m a man with direction. I’m a man who looks at a beach and thinks about the discomfort of feeling the sand between his toes. (You’ll never catch me in open-toed shoes or, for fuck’s-sake, barefoot.) Never once have I looked down and started digging.
My father put in a sandbox, installed a playscape, and built a treehouse for my sister and me at our childhood home. When, in university, I didn’t pursue Engineering and started studying Philosophy, he agreed. To this day, he won’t hold back a joke. He’s still full of wonder.
He only wants a better life for his children than he had for himself. Every time I talk to him, I feel like he’s taking a picture of me walking across the beach that is my life. He wants me to find my direction but he lets me wander.
When will I see what my father does? When will I see a life full of wonder and excitement that is relentless in its pursuit of discovery? When will I start digging in the sand, just like my friend’s daughter does?