Earlier this year, I posted some photos and an update on Facebook from our recent safari in Kenya. It was pretty much what you’d expect a safari in Kenya to be like: all zebras and giraffes and open-topped vehicles out in the grasslands with us donning khaki-colored hats and cameras laced around our necks. It was a major check off my life list: do a safari in Africa. I felt a bit like Meryl Streep. It was also a bit overwhelming.
Early mornings again and again (and again) with already bone-tired kids, assorted dusty, jaw-jarring rides with the windows down, and unpredictable daily routines made for quite the adventure. But it was onerous. It’s not the safari’s fault; it was what it was, and it was a lovely thing. But we were already tired on arrival; the week about put us over the edge.
Because it was also our daughter’s tenth birthday, a Facebook friend commented, “You’re never gonna live up this birthday again—Chuck-e-Cheese just won’t cut it!” I knew what she meant, and this was a bonafide concern of ours before we started this trip. Will our kids readjust to “real life”? Will they spend the following year wondering where the next adventure will be, chagrined that our week’s agenda involves the grocery store and karate practice?
We didn’t have to worry, we learned. This is what I told my Facebook friend: “I know what you mean, but here’s what’s weird—our kids are craving the normal stuff. If you ask them their favorite parts of this trip, they’ll immediately recall the friends they’ve made; the kids they’ve played with. That’s been the best part for them.”
There’s a lesson here for us grownups, I think.
I’m learning that there comes a point where the astonishing becomes commonplace—when thing after thing after adrenaline-pumping thing equals prosaic, not remarkable, because there’s just so much of it. A safari is incredible in between weeks of soup and family movie night. We revel in the holiday season because it’s not all year long. Moments like the dance recital, the graduation, the big work presentation, and the anniversary are prominent memories because they’re infrequent.
The everydayness of life is what we’re most made for, I’m convinced. Our souls can only take so much of the phenomenal before we start to shut down. We’re bowled over by the bigness of it all, while at the end of the day, most of our well-spent hours are forgetful.
When we first returned from living overseas about five years ago, we went to a workshop for people transitioning back to life in their home culture. One of our exercises was to take a quick stress test, to survey the past 365 days to assess how much strain we’d endured. Different events were given higher numbers, depending on how taxing they were—getting married would equal 200, say, or the birth of a new child in the family equaled 300. The higher your score, the higher your stress level, and therefore the more grace you needed to give yourself if you were feeling knocked down.
We’re not made to live in a chronic phase of flabbergast, even when the circumstances are positive. Our bodies and emotions start to shut down and go into survival mode. We’re at our healthiest when the bulk of our days are comprised of soup and karate. The day in, day out. We need to keep that stress number at a healthy, low rate as best we can. Healthy exploration should enhance that, not hinder it.
This isn’t to say a bit of occasional risk or adventure isn’t good for us, and it’s especially easy to crave it during the doldrums of February. But a nonstop season of unexpectedness leaves us craving a good night of sleep and a hot mug of tea with nothing on the agenda.
And this is where the idea of “explore” all comes together, I think. We all can explore our surroundings wherever we are, because it’s not about geography, it’s about a state of mind. It’s about taking it all in, whatever “it” is. We are explorers because we want to know more, learn more from our environment, and be available to change because we don’t leave the same person.
I worded it like this in my book Notes From a Blue Bike: if home is where the heart is, then on the open road lie our five senses. But we need both. Our senses need a place of return, and yet our heart rate increases when we allow it a bit of adventure. We’re healthier. Home and exploration play beautifully together, I find.
I’m an explorer, because I choose to walk out from under the safety net, ask questions, and be willing to change because of my experience. And you are, too, if you want to be. It has nothing to do with the stamps in your passport, it’s about learning from anything, anytime, anyplace.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Have you seen this need for both home and stability and adventure play out in your own life? Do you find yourself in seasons of wanting to explore and seasons of wanting to just stay home?
2. What are the things about home that you most love?
3. What does your bucket list look like? Does it include travel and exploration?