Last night, my next door neighbor told me about a guy who, at twenty-three, decided to walk 4,000 miles across America. All he had was a 50-pound backpack, a mandolin, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” Andrew Forsthoefel talked to the people he met along the way and asked them questions about their lives and what they’ve learned so far, later on producing the epic journey into an hour-long radio story entitled Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man.
“I don’t know why he did it…he’s just crazy, I think,” said Bill Guy, the kind old man he met in Alabama.
Crazy or not, it was a feat (pun unintended) that took guts and balls, and I admire the guy for it. Andrew himself didn’t know why he was doing it: “You might think anyone who does something like this knows why they’re doing it. Or you might think they’re just crazy. I’m not crazy but when I left home I didn’t know exactly why I was doing it either.”
What am I doing?
I’m sure all throughout the whole endeavor he was asking himself this and a string of other related questions. Why? What for? How will I survive doing this? What’s in it for me? And having just turned twenty-three I find myself asking the same questions.
At one part of the radio story, Andrew asked a woman what advice she would give to her twenty-three year old self. It made me wonder what it would be like if it was the other way around: given the opportunity, what would I tell my 40-year old self? What could a younger and more naive me offer to what I could only hope is an older and wiser me?
Hello Older Me,
What are you doing?
Me? I’ve – I mean we’ve – just turned twenty-three and we’re in the middle of discovering how wonderful the world really is. Remember how we quit that office job last December and started traveling all over the country? It’s been all kinds of amazing – we’ve made new friends, taken plenty of pictures, hit that “Book now” button all too often, broken that blasted diet too many times (you cannot not eat Lechon when in Cebu!), and fallen madly in love with one place after the other.
You’re forty now, and you might be quietly settled down with a nice family in a nice little home somewhere in the city. Or not. Maybe you’re still single and traveling the world, collecting as much stamps on that passport as you can. Or who knows? Maybe you got it lucky and have a family that is at the same time your own traveling troupe (and you all have matching uniforms, the kind cub scouts wear, with cool backpacks and gears that will come in handy for your secret missions of – ok stop, Trish). Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re happy.
When Monica asked me two hours before my birthday what it felt like to be turning twenty-three, I told her that it felt good. I used to feel scared about getting older, like the feeling you get when you’re watching the sand in an hourglass trickle slowly to the bottom. There’s that anxiety and dread knowing that you’re running out of time and you’ve got to do something about it quick! Do something now! Hurry! Or you know, just flip the hourglass over.
Andrew, who walked and talked his way through America said, “I’d been told that these years get faster and faster as you go and before you know it, you’re right where you thought you’d never be – at the end of the road.” The end of the road…now tell me that doesn’t scare the stuffing out of you!
But now that I’m doing what I’m doing, I feel less frightened. Twenty-three doesn’t seem so bad when you see it as the continuation of a journey, as a step towards maturity, and the beginning of new adventures. Now that I’m doing what I’m doing, I feel free.
Which brings me back to the question, “What am I doing?”
I’m writing. I’m writing a letter to my 40-year-old self so you remember what it feels like to be crazy, confused, impulsive, passionate, and happy all at the same time. I want you to remember what it feels like to be loved so intensely – by God, your family, your friends. And to love in return. Remember what it feels like to be free. That you travel because it’s what you choose to do, and not just because it’s something someone tells you to do. That you wake up every morning not with dread but with eagerness and the desire to bring something new to this world. And that writing is part of who you are, not just something to be done “on the side.”
Some people know from the very beginning what they want to be. They’re the lucky ones. They start out young and become good at what they do very quickly. Some people have to walk across the country or travel around the world and get lost along the way just to discover what was there all along. Really, the best part of the journey isn’t discovering how wonderful the world is, but how wonderful and capable you are.
And you may scoff or cringe at my cheesiness, older Trish, but it’s a long and winding road towards happiness, and to find these little nuggets of truth is worth all the hard work. I woke up on the morning of my 23rd birthday with a horrible hangover (Oh don’t you remember, you’re a drunk? Kidding, just some birthday salubong fun with the best people on earth), but it was very clear to me that I was on the right track, on a path of my choosing, and that I was happy. I woke up brave, confident, and very hungry (literally and figuratively). I finally knew this with certainty, something that I had been trying so hard to grasp at since last year: that God has bigger, better plans for me, that happiness is a choice and we only have to be brave enough to go after it.
So there. What am I doing? I am en route to you, my 40-year-old self. And along the way, I am having a great time talking to people, learning about the world, and finding out what life has to offer. I hope between now and then, I get to help other people in the process and leave something of substance when we reach the end of the road.
Ending with this quote from Marian, a woman Andrew met in Alabama, who discovered that ice sings and has different colors: “It’s a total and absolute trust. And I think that kind of goes in with travel – the unknown, maybe a little bit risky, but it’s the unknown, the uncharted, the unadvertised. And it’s real.”
Wishing you all the happiness in the world,
P.S. Happy birthday!