We Know the Way

I was sitting in my office the other day, and the song We Know the Way, from the Moana soundtrack came on. This presented a problem because the song always brings tears to my eyes.
This song speaks to me on a soul level, because it is about me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ancient Polynesian seafarer, I’m not even from a place near the sea, but I am a Voyager. I grew up on tales of Shackleton, Lewis and Clark, Stanley and Livingston, the Voortrekkers, and the French Voyageurs. I am the spiritual descendant of anyone who ever looked at the horizon and said, “why can’t I go there”.
Sadly, I live in an era when nomads are boxed in by borders and voyagers are thought of as unstable people who “just need to settle down”. Some were created to stay where they were born to sow and reap and multiply, but some are called to be wanderers.
I think many people in my generation feel the need to wander, and we get written off as “damn millennials”, or “dreamers” or “selfish idealists who won’t conform”. I have had a few well-meaning people tell me that they essentially think I’m crazy because I’m 33 and I haven’t settled down to a career (I have career, contrary to popular belief (I’m an English teacher)), and a house (and a mortgage), and a wife and kids. I have tried twice to please people and move back to the U.S. and begin the process of settling down and both times it nearly killed me. There is a quote that says: “There is a point in life where you either need to travel or commit suicide”.
So what is a boy to do? Follow his heart, that’s what. There are a couple of lines in We Know the Way, that says: “We read the wind the and sky when the sun is high. We sail the length of the seas, on the ocean breeze. At night we name every star, we know where we are. We know who we are, who we are”(that’s the bit that always makes me cry).
The great patriarch Abraham was a settled man living in his father’s household with his wife when God showed up and told him to go wandering. Never once did God tell Abraham to settle down, build a house, or find a job with great security and a 401k. In fact, God promised to give Abraham territory, which to a nomad means space to wander. I figure that if God is good with the father of his people wandering around, then he probably doesn’t mind if I do too.
We have the tendency to get stuck inside borders imposed on us by other people. These borders have very little to do with our own beliefs and desires, and everything to do with other people’s hang-ups. Thor Heyerdahl, the leader of the Contiki Expedition and one of the great modern voyagers, once said: “Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people”. Sometimes we must trust that we know the way and set out to be who we want to be, who we have to be. Borders be damned, we know the way.


Learning to be Brave

I have a confession to make, even though many people think I am super brave because I can move overseas to strange countries at the drop of hat, and I have work hard to create an Indian Jones-esque persona, I am not very brave.
I walk with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and that is probably natural considering I grew up with an abusive, mentally ill father. Uncertainty was a constant companion and yet it’s one that I can’t get used to. Living in China doesn’t help much, with the fact that time is very fluid here and things generally don’t get done, or you don’t get told about them, until the last minute, add to it that the system of government here seeks to control people, uncertainty is a stunningly good tool to utilize in the pursuit of that goal. I don’t think that the uncertainty bothers the Chinese as much as it does the expats, mainly because we’re not used to the idea of random raids on bars for no reason or door to door drug testing (I have heard, though can’t confirm, that the police have lately shown up on the doorsteps of certain foreigners demanding urine samples for drug testing), or the random and sudden demolition of a favorite hangout or place of business. While none of these things directly affected me, hearing about them from the various expat news outlets only served to make me feel like the sky was falling ( all these things, I think were part of the run up to the One Belt, One Road Summit, so things should be cooling down later this week (don’t worry Mom)). Needless to say, I haven’t felt very brave lately, instead I have felt very much like a scared child trying to escape the latest outburst of anger from his unstable father.
Then it hit me, maybe bravery isn’t not being scared, angry, frustrated, what have you, by the circumstances. Maybe bravery is continuing to put one foot in front of the other despite not knowing where that foot is going to land. Maybe the point of bravery is action rather than lack of fear. I think Winston Churchill may have said it best when he said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.
The world is a scary place lately and our own woundedness only seems to amplify its effect on us, but the beautiful thing is that regardless of how we feel if we keep going, we are brave. Most of us are super brave and we just don’t realize it. It is the ability to keep walking even when your figurative guts are hanging out and you’ve been beaten to a bloody pulp by life. Bravery is not about how you look or feel while going through something, it is about going through something and continuing to keep going. We are braver than we know.