“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a Journey, not a Destination.”
While I was working at Camp Michindoh for J-Term as a Cabin Leader, I was walking through a hall behind the gym thinking how this experience was preparing me to become a dad someday… and I realized just how often I thought like that. I began wondering if I would ever actually ARRIVE at any of the destinations I’m “preparing” for. Much of life seemed to be preparing. Being a kid was preparing to be a grown-up, being Apple Tech Support was preparing for a later tech job, college is preparing for life, being on staff at Jumonville was preparing to be a Cabin Leader at Michindoh… While I was talking to Ree about this, she said, “And you’re never really prepared.” She had a point.
I realized that life is like a scavenger hunt. It’s a series of destinations that end up not being destinations at all, just starting points for new journeys. It’s like Hansel and Gretel, where when they “arrive” at the witch’s house, they haven’t really arrived; they’ve just started a new adventure that they don’t know about yet. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what the next destination is or how to get there, and you feel like there aren’t any checkpoints… and you never really know where the next “destination” on the scavenger hunt of life will be, or when the “next destination” will turn out to be not a waypoint, but in fact the final destination.
I realized that “happily ever after” is just a phrase people stick on the end of bedtime stories because while kids are listening to the stories they think they have some control: even if Jason is creeping down the hall in the minotaur’s maze, as long as the story continues, we feel better somehow than if we never found out what happened to him, if we walked out in the middle of the movie. Happily ever after is a pipe dream; it’s not real. It just makes us feel better about leaving the story. Much like movies; after two hours, they end and (often) make it seem like everything is okay now. Disney animated movies often seem to end in happily ever after: people get married, find home, get rescued, win battles, finish quests, or do whatever they do. It turns out that all the times when I wrote blog entries in which I had completely figured out life, I actually hadn’t – they were just log entries. Happily ever after happens when I’m dead, and not a moment before. Until then, it’s the journey.
I want to be married. Just thought I’d throw that out there. But I think I’ve wanted that because it seemed like a destination, a place where Happily Ever After might be hiding. I’m starting to realize that marriage, like so much of life, isn’t a destination. It’s a waypoint. Life goes on from there, maybe a little better, maybe a little worse… just different. And then having kids is another waypoint that feels like a destination. It happens and life changes. Anything that gives you a greater chance of happiness also gives you a greater chance of pain.
The happiness of romance can be crushed by the despair of heartbreak; the thrill of marriage can be forgotten on the Cold Nights Sleeping on the Couch When the Sun Really Does Go Down On Your Anger. Then there is the making up later. It’s ups and downs.
Wonderful Children become Terrible Two-Year-Olds or Rebellious Teenagers or Shiftless Adults Who Graduate College and then Stay at Home Because They’re Too Lazy to Get Jobs. And in between and after are the days when they do or say things that make you so proud.
And sometimes you get moments when you see what part of the trip you’re on has been about (a place I call “The View from the Other Side of Faith”), but as Ree said, “The last chapter of your story should be written by someone else.” My life may never make sense at all until the end of the story. …And then I guess it’s the beginning of a new adventure called Heaven. 🙂 Maybe our longing for “happily ever after” is really just the internal GPS of the heart longing for something that’s more real than we’ve ever imagined, and the search for home is really about our True Home. I realized just now that… I really want to get there. I think I’m a little homesick now… and I think I finally understand a little bit of what people mean when they say they’re homesick for heaven. It’s everything we’ve ever wanted… and could be just around the corner.
Becoming a Christian won’t necessarily make you happier like all the drama stories tell it: you may feel a weight off your shoulders or you may not… but your life will be different. The final destination changes, and there may be a little more purpose in the scavenger hunt at times – AT TIMES. Life won’t necessarily better or worse, just different, and with a different final destination. I got most of this from Ree, actually… it just took a while to process.
Also, it turns out that the journey can often be made better (or worse) by traveling companions. Often, one of the hardest kinds of journeys is the kind you make alone. Journeys with companions allow for higher highs. …And possibly lower lows, and nights crying… but I think I should agree with Solomon: “Two are better than one.” It’s a crazy journey. Bring a friend.
My friend Tyler gave me a quote a while back by Ivy Baker Priest. It said, “The World is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.” In the moment I was living then, it was a great relief to realize that the end of a wonderful summer was the beginning of a search for what to do next that ended at Huntington University – and arriving there ended up being the beginning of a completely new adventure. And when I graduate from Huntington, I’ll… be starting another adventure. (Ree says she wants her tombstone to say “Graduated). Life, it turns out, really is about the journey. Parts of the journey prepare you for others, and some in ways that you would never expect. Grab your walking stick. Enjoy the trip. See you down the road.