Monday, June 25, 2007

Hiding in a Rut

"We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them."
Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit: "An Unexpected Party," p. 12
I've been thinking some more about adventures in the real world, whether the opportunities are there, whether they're desirable, and why most of us don't have them very often. Part of the answer, I think, can be found in the Tolkien quote above. We may not be as openly antagonistic toward adventures as Bilbo is initially, but we are motivated by the same desires. We don't want things to get nasty, we don't want to be disturbed, we don't want to be uncomfortable, and we don't want to be late for dinner. If adventuring requires all this of us, many of us would just as soon pass. Heck, most of the time we can't even be bothered to try a different restaurant, shop at a different grocery store, or do anything that requires us to make the tiniest leap into the unknown.

The 2007 Guatemala team from St. Michael's in Tucson

For example, I keep thinking about the people from St. Michael's who go down to Guatemala each summer, bringing medicines, helping hands and the occasional Jeep. I've said I would never do that myself, but why? Because I would find it disturbing and uncomfortable, that's why. My shyness and low embarrassment threshold would make the whole trip painful for me emotionally. Being fat and sedentary means that the physical demands would be too much for me. Going without John would make me lonely, and getting away from my job for six weeks would probably be impossible. Oh, goody! I'm off the hook! Some people do it, though. At least one of the Guatemala volunteers goes down there every year.

And then there's the family in this picture, being blessed by members of the congregation before the parents and two teenaged boys go back to Niger to teach about the gospel, build wells and alleviate famine. They've been doing this off and on for a decade. I asked the father whether he'd always known this was going to be his life, and he acknowledged that by college he was preparing for it professionally. Risk averse? Not him!

Would I go to Guatemala, to Niger, to Iraq, to Sudan, to have adventures and make a real positive difference in the world? I'm afraid the answer is no. Make me late for dinner! Well, no, it's not the dinner, really. It's the fear, not so much the fear of death as the fear of being surrounded by people I don't know, doing things that are hard or scary or unwelcome. I believe strongly that there is no Them, but the truth us that I'm uncomfortable around large numbers of unfamiliar Us. Heck, I'm shy toward parishioners sitting near me at Coffee Hour, if I don't already know them.

Still, there are lots of people much braver than I am, who go out and seek adventures. There is a genetic predisposition toward risk-taking that I clearly lack. Years ago I heard from a journalist named Joshua Wander, who had come across my earliest postings about the fictional character of the same name. The real Wander was involved in a club for risk-takers, and I can't help but think Ariel's dad would approve.

But would I go to the Lonely Mountain with Thorin Oakenshield, if Gandalf asked me? Well, actually, I might, if I were an unmarried hobbit in the prime of life. It's hard to be sure, though, because it just isn't going to happen. Would I travel with the Doctor? I'd try it once, anyway. It would be ever so much easier than staffing clinics in tiny Mayan villages: no medical procedures, no hiking, no need to learn a different language. Would I go to sea with Black Rose Kate? Probably not; that would be both dangerous and uncomfortable!

But reading about it, writing about it, watching it on tv, that I can do. Vicarious adventures may be less satisfying, but they hardly ever make you late for dinner.



Anonymous said...

Several years ago I got addicted to a journal written by a mother and daughter. The daughter hiked cross country and journaled about her adventures. Through her I traveled in ways I am not able to do personaly. She quit writing about her adventures and I went into with drawals.:) Some people really can't not have adventure in their life. I prefer reading to doing. I guess I would have made a good hobbit.

Paul said...

You know I can't comment politely on this post, so I'll just say, "I was here," and leave it at that.