Sometime between 1994 and 1997, I changed. I abandoned my own upbringing and beliefs instilled in me by our community and people for a certain quest, you may say. I was in search for some definition of me, of what I believed, and became a bit of a Doubting Thomas and Jonah rolled through the maple and oak leaves of the fall as hunting season approaches. I doubted my own values, systems of belief and a black and white interpretation of right and wrong. Through this new lens, I viewed the world in shades of gray, with good and evil to be experienced wherever I traveled and within everyone I met. I held no satisfaction in things once important to me. My bank account no longer mattered, nor did the clothes I wore, what I drove or in whose company I was with. Race became background chatter and I embraced all beliefs as a version of the truth as interpreted by people: People just like anyone else, just of different color and sometimes, startling different versions of morality.
The more I learned, the degrees I achieved, the knowledge imparted by their pursuit, the less important nearly everything seemed. My own life, even. Confronted by the realities of a mathematically possible infinite universe, the diversity of life in all environments, and the cruelty of man, I chose to run. Where I learned that our species can be capable of the greatest imaginable cruelty along with unselfish acts of love.
Where? Where can you go in flight of yourself? Nowhere could I find. I made my own geographical mental map of the majority of the continental U.S., down the Baja Peninsula from L.A. to Cabo. I watched pilot fish swim in front of schools of Great Whites as Mexicana Surfers chased their own dreams down the sparkling blue faces of waves generated by energy let go in some seismic event thousands of miles away. I discovered that you could indeed eat fish raw, right out of the ocean, that Tequila was different from climate to microclimate, that the small could infinitely large and that I truly understand what every human must face: Despite their pursuit of knowledge, piety, money or any other physical manifestations of pride: It didn’t matter. In the end, I understood less in the aftermath of nearly ten years of wandering, seeking, exploring and searching than I did when I began.
In 1999, I think, I was spending time in Apalachicola, FL and St. George’s Island, just off the coast. In those days, picking up spending money was easy: Just write an application of intent to study something like fractal mechanics or sand dune migration or interspecies relationships in isolated environments, and bam, Uncle Sam wrote a check. I was low that one morning. The sunrise had not cheered me and I was floundering with writing and trying to get a grip on the concept of faith.
I took a kayak over to my study area and checked the gauges. The beauty of the morning was leaving me speechless. I was covered in salt spray and brown from the sun, so much so that I barely recognized myself when I saw a mirror, which was rarely. The sun lit up the water like glass and a school of dolphins played around my boat. I sat still, as motionless as I could, watching them play and call to one another in another language. My feelings of loneliness and doubt fell away like leaves from a tree in the spring, when the old is replaced by the new.
My traveling days were essentially over. I pursued them relentlessly for years, then went home to Appalachia. Now, thanks to relentless good luck and the kindness of so many people, I reside on the Eastern Shore, for the now. I get to watch my son, a true blessing from God, play in the sand with my beautiful wife.
My message is simple. To be at one with your faith, your belief, you must first shed your fear. Our society is bombarded by it – from ISIS to Ebola to school shootings to terrorist threats – in the grand scheme of our lives and our relationship with the teachings of Jesus, Mohammed, and so many others; does any of it matter? Truly? Our lives are too short to live in fear of any kind, and sometimes, it takes facing your greatest fear headlong, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, where we all truly reside, from the moment our precarious existence begins until it ends.
The people of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have a saying: “Pura Vida.” Loosely translated, it means, live for the day. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Peace and love are all that matters.
In closing, what I’m trying to say here, if anything is to be said at all, is that I refuse to be defined by this disease that I battle daily. I will not give up, and I will not succumb to self-pity. Nor will I fear anything, ever.