What Happened to Peace and Love?

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There’s no way to say any of the following without sounding like a crotchety old carbunkle, but for all you youngsters today who may not know it, back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a real, serious, dedicated movement that centered around coming together as friends, seeing beyond differences to the heart and soul, ending war once and for all, etc.
We have gradually lost sight of that goal as time has passed. It’s like we’re all standing among the ruins of a half-built Utopia without the will or ability to complete it. In fact, many people seem to be determined to widen political/religious/social/racial divisions and wipe out everything not exactly like themselves. (Exactly what the Islamic terrorists are guilty of, ironically.)
I was a kid in the 60’s, but I was befriended by a group of hippies, and let me tell you, they lived their philosophies. They made me feel like a prince at a time when I felt pretty small and insignificant. I told that story in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book called Random Acts of Kindness.
I’m not saying we should all become hippies, or even that they were right about everything. For instance, I don’t respect the fact that they wanted to put limits on everything except their own behavior. But what can’t be questioned is their level of commitment to peace and love. I wonder if we’ll ever get back to that ideal of seeking understanding and compassion. We can’t have anything unless we first actually want it, and wanting is useless without action. In other words, if we don’t define what we want, there’s no way to ever achieve it.
There will always be evil and naked aggression that needs to be squashed by non-pacifists. (ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Taliban, Nazi’s, fascists, etc.) But it’s equally and maybe even more brave to seek peace in our daily lives with people we have nothing in common with, to try to connect as human beings and see past (or not even notice at all) our racial/sexual/economic/educational/religious divisions, and all the other ways we divide ourselves from others. After all, the first requirement for doing evil to another is to think of them as something separate from ourselves, or even non-human. That’s why the first thing Hitler and every tyrant like him did to win over the mindless masses was to label the group he wanted to persecute as “vermin” that needed to be exterminated. This is how he convinced men who weren’t born killers to murder women and children. 
Every measure of peace must be attempted before breaking out the guns, or fists. At least the hippies were brave enough to try, you know?
Here are a few songs from back in the day that illustrate my point. Feel free to message me with your favorite.
Why Can’t We Be Friends – War
Stop Children What’s That Sound – Buffalo Springfield
Love is the Answer – England Dan and John Ford Coley
Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone
Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Blowin’ in the Wind – Peter, Paul & Mary 
Give Peace a Chance – John Lennon
Some Mother’s Son – The Kinks
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The Broad and Narrow Way

In my father’s memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, he wrote about a painting his grandmother had on the wall of her bedroom in her cottage. It showed what the Bible calls “the broad and narrow way” – two roads, a wide one with all the easy to find sins of the world, loaded with sinners engaged in all kinds of debauchery, and a narrow one with one figure, walking uphill toward a light. My father said he studied that painting until every detail of it was seared into his mind. I have searched the internet for the image. It may have been this one –

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Here’s a more modern one – 

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As much as I love the power of the written word – the right words in the right order – I’m not sure which shapes the heart and mind more – words or images. Imagery, film in particular, may be gaining the upper hand in the modern world, as more people watch movies than read books. 

When I was in elementary school, police officers and others came to our school to teach us the evils of drug use. In a pamphlet they handed out, there was a healthy-looking kid who didn’t use drugs and a freaked-out, twitchy one who did. This was one of the pages from it –

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That did the trick with me. I never wanted to become the twitchy kid hiding in the old box.

I had the added emphasis of watching my brother go down the road of addiction. My earliest memory of discovering his problem was when I was ten years old and he was thirteen. I was skateboarding with some friends at our elementary school and one of them said, “Hey, isn’t that your brother?” I looked and saw him running down the sidewalk on the other side of the chain link fence, flapping his arms and trying to fly. I called him and he came running over with a wild look in his eyes. He said, “Hey, little brother, want to try some of these?” He held out a handful of pills. He was my brother but not my brother. I said no and he ran off down he street, still trying to fly. 

We used to play baseball and frisbee in the street. That stopped when the drugs started. I became a potential “fink” (tattletale) to him and his friends. In fact, he began to torture me psychologically and physically when my parents weren’t around. He hadn’t just changed. He became sadistic.

A few years after the day he offered me drugs, I had a dream that he and I were walking in an unfamiliar part of town. He wanted to go down an alley. I told him it was too dark and that we should go around. He turned down the alley and said, “Come on. It will be fine.” I yelled after him, begging him to stay, warning him that something bad was going to happen, until he disappeared into the darkness.

As time passed, he listened to bands like Korn and Cannibal Corpse. I listened to David Wilcox and The Beach Boys. Still trying to get him out of that dark alley, I warned him that the messages in music, like chants, are embedded into the psyche because of their melodic and repetitive nature. He laughed and said, “This music is what I loved when I was young. If I started listening to Air Supply or Neil Sedaka, I would age rapidly and die.” 

He kept walking down that alley until he died of a drug overdose at the age of 37.  

I’m still on the narrow road. I still medicate myself with music with positive messages, martial arts (hitting bags instead of people), singing, trying to absorb the beauty and innocence of my children, and, of course, writing.

I still seek God. I hope He’s at the end of this narrow path. And I hope my brother is with Him.

 

Just One Yes

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It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes, but remember, all it takes is one “yes” to put you on the road to a better place.

Dr. Seuss was rejected by every major publisher of his day and went home with his first manuscript And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He got together for lunch with a friend and told him how disappointed he was that nobody wanted his book. His friend had just become an agent with a local publisher a day earlier. He told him he’d run it by his boss. The rest is – well, you know.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

– Calvin Coolidge

 

Beaten Over The Head

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I’ve got a very old, rustic wood plaque with a poem called Desiderata on it, one of the best motivational poems ever written, with lots of great advice like “go placidly amid the noise and haste”, advice that applies very well to where I live (Los Angeles) and I sometimes find hard to follow.

I was cleaning out the garage today and knocked it off the wall. It hit me on the head. Hurt like the dickens. So I have now literally been “beaten over the head” with it. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?

The poem is below in case you haven’t read it. It’s definitely worth your time.

The only line I take exception with is “. . . listen to others, even the dull and ignorant.” I mean, it may be true that some people are dull or ignorant or both (a few come to mind, actually), but it makes Max sound a bit on the arrogant side. Other than that, this poem is pure gold.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, (c) 1952

I Love Rejection

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Okay, I don’t “love” love it, but I have come to accept and even be a little bit proud of it, in terms of my chosen career – writing. As anyone in the arts – particularly acting and writing – knows, you’re going to hear “no, thanks” a lot. Or the classic, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Or the dreaded, “Don’t quit your day job.” But a writer’s rejection is usually silent – a polite email that reads something like this.

“Thank you very much for submitting your material to us. Our agents have now had a chance to look at it and we are sorry to say we don’t feel that we can offer you representation. Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, unfortunately we are not able to give you more detailed feedback than this. However, these things are very subjective and someone else may well feel differently about your work.

Thank you again for letting us take a look at your material, and we wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher.”

Isn’t that the nicest no you ever heard? The literary world is a polite one.

Of course, I don’t like receiving rejection letters. I’d much rather receive nothing but yes’s and have agents and publishers fighting with each other to represent my work, but I don’t really mind no’s.

So why am I so proud of rejection?

Because 98% of humanity doesn’t even try. Many have artistic inclinations and leanings – singing in the shower, drawing, playing an instrument a little, jotting down a line or two now and then – but they don’t pursue that side of themselves. There are good reasons – working hard to provide a good environment for children, for instance – and there are bad reasons – self-doubt, fear of failure, shyness, etc.

Someone once wrote, “We recognize in every work of genius our own discarded thoughts.” Plenty of people have ideas and think, “Wow! That would make a great book/poem/movie/song/painting/invention.” They’re full of fire and passion for a little while. They tell all their friends about it. A few go out and buy a “how to” book so they can learn everything about it before they actually start working. (Which is a big mistake – as Dan Millman wrote, “You don’t need to know everything about the ocean to swim in it.”)

Even fewer actually put pen to paper, or paint to canvas. But the vast majority do none of those things. They get the ego stroke from their friends and family telling them how brilliant their idea is, and that’s good enough. Or worse, some significant other tells them they’ll never make it – to be realistic – to get a good, steady job – that making it in the arts is like winning the lottery – and they let that person’s lack of belief prevent them from trying. But that nagging feeling remains – the question from that other voice – the one that knows greatness lies within – the one that asks, “Why aren’t you at least trying?”

The English writer Sydney Smith (1771-1845) wrote, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort.”

So that’s why I have made rejection my friend. The same goes for confusion. They are both necessary doorways to a better place. To continue moving toward that glorious dream – whatever it is – artists must embrace confusion (the portal to higher knowledge) and rejection (the proof that they’re trying hard.) The alternative is being crushed by every rejection and giving up. That’s not an option.

An even higher step is to ask people who rejected a work what they didn’t like about it, learn from that, and work hard not to repeat that mistake. There are very few spectacles in this world sadder than someone who just doesn’t have the talent to make it as an artist, yet constantly struggling to convince themselves that they do, blind to how much they don’t know, and unwilling to put in the hours of time and effort required to educate themselves properly. Of course, everyone wants to have great accomplishments without working, but that’s not how it works. Someone once wrote, “Success is often hard to recognize because it’s wearing dirty overalls.” The only place where success comes before work is the dictionary.

Clint Eastwood was told by an agent, “You’ll never make it. You’re too tall, you squint too much, and your voice is too soft.”

Harrison Ford was told by a director, “You’ll never make it. I’ve been around and I know star quality, and you don’t have it.”

J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected dozens of times. She was even advised by one agent to take a writing course!

When he submitted the now legendary book Moby Dick to an agent, Herman Melville was asked, “Does it have to be a whale?” (It did.)

Rudyard Kipling was told in a rejection letter, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

So, you see, rejection isn’t even rejection most of the time – it’s just someone who doesn’t have the ability to recognize talent and should probably be doing something else for a living. Or it’s just that their agency has too many books like that already and doesn’t need another one. Or your submission landed in that agent’s email box when they were annoyed or preoccupied about something else. It’s not always about your work, and all you need to catapult you to that next level is one yes.

Sorry to get all Tony Robbins on you, but I received a rejection letter today and needed to remind myself why it doesn’t matter. I’ll still keep on doing what God put me here to do. I’ll still write even if nobody ever reads it. I’ll still devote my short life to something that inspires me and makes my heart beat faster and stronger. I’ll still do what I love. So that when I’m 95 and sitting by the fire, whether or not I reach the loftiest heights of my chosen path, I won’t have the regret of thinking I didn’t try hard enough, which is far worse and harder to live (and die) with than rejection.

Here’s a collection of rejection letters famous authors have received for now classic books. (And a few parodies.) Enjoy!

https://www.wiltgren.com/2016/10/31/12-rejection-letters-of-massively-popular-authors/

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All these books were rejected by agents/publishers who now hate themselves.

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Journey to God (poem)

 

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I know most won’t read this because it is very, very, very long, so to the one or two who do, pat yourself on the back for not being afflicted with the A.D.D. the Internet has stricken 99% of the adult world with. I really opened a vein for it, so I think it will be worth your time. Thanks.

And to those who think a rhyming poem can’t be profound, please get out your Ouija board, contact Hank Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Bob Frost and Billy Shakespeare (et al) and take it up with them. 

Journey to God

An old man passed away one night.
He’d had a good, long life.
and all that he regretted
was leaving his beautiful wife.

To others, her glory had faded
as the years had claimed their fee
but to him, she was just as lovely
as she was at twenty-three.

He saw his high school sweetheart
and remembered her sweet, shy smile.
He saw his bride in a gown of white
walking toward him down the aisle.

He saw her asleep in a hospital bed
as she cradled their newborn child.
He saw her quiet and thoughtful,
then passionate and wild.

He was so possessed by thoughts of her,
he hardly noticed he had passed.
He was still alive in spirit
and all his pain was gone at last.

He was surprised at how easy it was to die,
like shedding worn-out clothes
but even more to see himself below
as his spirit slowly rose.

He felt no urge or instinct
to return and get back in
for he knew the body on the bed
was never really him.

It was always just a vehicle,
now broken down and old.
What he’d walked around in all his life
was just a vehicle for his soul.

He had to laugh for, being dead,
he had never felt so great.
He couldn’t help but realize
this was a natural state.

Death was not the end of life,
just one more stanza in the poem.
It was not a sad departure
but a return to his true home.

But the cries of his dear wife
would not let him leave this plane.
He could not bear to leave her
while she was in such pain.

He saw her cry and hold him
as he lay still in their bed
and heard her whisper, “Rest, my love”
as he floated overhead.

He wanted to hold her and let her know
that he was free from pain.
He wished he could tell her not to cry
for they’d soon be together again.

But the wall between life and death
proved too thick and strong to breach.
The woman he’d held every day of his life,
for now, was out of reach.

So he cried, too, thinking of her
so frail and helpless there,
alone with his lifeless body
in the home they used to share.

Though at first he was elated
to be free of that painful shell,
he longed to return to tell her
that his soul was alive and well.

So as he floated like a feather
through the purple, misty air,
his sorrow and loneliness mounted
and he fell into despair.

When from far away, through the haze,
a strange melody reached his ears,
sung by a chorus of angels
to soothe and calm his fears.

He followed the voices, clear and sweet,
and could hardly believe the sight.
Radiant beings with glowing eyes
were guiding him toward the light!

“Do you remember me, John?” one of them asked,
“We were buddies in World War Two.”
“Do you remember me, John?” another voice called,
“You used to call me Grandpa Lou.”

“Hey, John! It’s me! Your brother, Joey!
I came here when you were ten.
I’ll bet you never thought
you would hear my voice again.”

This went on for hours and hours,
spirits wanting to say hello;
reunions with those he had loved so well
in the world and the life below.

His emotions were tossed seeing those he had lost
in the maelstrom of earthly life
where often the good are taken too soon
and heartache and sorrow is rife.

But there were two others he struggled to see
till he finally grew panicked and sad.
He said, “Wait a minute! Somebody tell me –
where are my mom and my dad?”

His brother whispered, “John, don’t worry.
They’re here and they’re happy you came.”
Then he saw them, bathed in golden light,
and their faces were just the same.

He cried with joy as he hugged them and said,
“Oh, I have missed you so.”
For years, he wished he could see them again.
Now, he could not let them go.

He was happy to hold them, to look in their eyes,
and laugh as they had before.
He was relieved that death is no different from life.
There’s just no pain anymore.

He told them he’d grown to appreciate
all that they’d done and said,
and as nice as it was to tell them now,
wished he’d told them in life instead.

But like most, he denied the fact of death
and refused to believe they could die.
He never allowed it to enter his mind
as the months and the years flew by.

Till he found himself standing beside their graves
and it finally sank in they were gone.
He was angry at God who allowed death to be.
It all seemed so senseless and wrong.

“Why are we given these feelings?” he had cried,
“And love that grows deeper with time?
If we’re bound to lose it all in the end,
then creating this world was a crime.”

And just the way he had wished
he could soothe his wife’s dismay,
his parents heard his anguished cry
and wished the same that day.

For they had already found their way home
to the fountain from which we all spring.
They had freed themselves of their mortal shells
and their souls had taken wing.

Now here he was, with them again,
and his joy could not be contained.
If only he’d known death was only a door,
his faith would never have waned.

“If you want to swim in the ocean,” they said,
“Just think it and you will be there.
Your body can’t slow you down anymore.
You’re as light and free as the air.”

“Remember those Sunday’s down by the sea?
Those summers that seemed without end?
Just close your eyes and imagine that time
and we’ll all be back there again!”

But he worried that God would not let him stay
and that all this was too good to last.
He feared that he would be banished
for his faltering faith in the past.

But his family and friends just smiled and said,
“John, you have nothing to fear.
A few things they said about heaven down there
are far from the truth up here.”

They said you had to go to church
for God to hear your prayer
but God can hear the softest whisper
anytime and anywhere.

You search for Christ was constant.
You fought for your faith since birth.
And the kindness you always showed in life
is the sole measure of anyone’s worth.

God doesn’t demand blind submission
or condemn you for questions or doubts.
It’s men that said God was vengeful,
a dictator who bullies and shouts.

You thought you needed pure faith
or God wouldn’t hear your call
but the times God tried to help you most
were when you had no faith at all.

You thought that sins were punished
with torture and endless pain
but the threat of hell is not for God
but for the church’s gain.

We don’t need a hell to burn in
or a devil to torture our minds.
Judgment takes place in our conscience
when we’re shown God’s vast design.

It’s not only the enemy of man
who compels us to do wrong.
Good and bad are side by side
within us, all along.

It all comes down to choices –
light or dark, right or wrong,
and they make or break our happiness
in life below and life beyond.

Every sin comes back to haunt us,
no matter how big or how small
and the pain we caused in earthly life
returns to us, after all.

We each have our own individual hell
and a battle none but us can fight.
Millions of souls are still spinning out there,
trapped in perpetual night.

For until they cure their own blindness,
in darkness their souls will bide.
God doesn’t force us to come back home
but patiently calls us inside.

Some men look at evil
and label it “God’s will”
but God gave life, and death for rest.
Only men can kill.

And some say God is dead
or he was never really there.
How else, they ask, can one explain
so many unanswered prayers?

How else can one explain
the pain and horror on the earth?
This has been the central question
since the dawn of mankind’s birth.

But like a mortal parent,
raising a baby all alone,
God did his best to teach us
then left us on our own.

And like a meddling father
who a child would push away,
God can’t live our lives for us
and he can’t cushion the way.

To take every hint of pain from life
would remove our right to choose.
If you really stop to think it through,
we’d gain less than we’d lose.

Some see the misery of human life
and ask God what it means
but the only way He could end it
would be to make us all machines.

So God does not stop evil,
though it hurts Him to let it be.
He can’t both rule with an iron hand
and allow us to be free.

The place that folks call “hell”
where sinners meet their fate
is distance from the light of God
and time to contemplate.

For once you feel God’s presence,
all your pain and sorrows cease.
All your questions then are answered
and your heart is filled with peace.

Men bent the words of Jesus
To control the multitude.
They took his divine message
and made it low and crude.

Men have always struggled for power,
from the caves to the streets of L.A.
Why wouldn’t they twist the word of God
and tell us we need them to pray?

The ring kissing, Hail Mary’s, and rosary beads,
right down to the Pope’s princely nod,
at best, is only good theater,
a bureaucracy between man and God.

You see, God is not some tyrant
who needs a chain of command.
You find God in the eyes of the aged
and in a baby’s hand.

You find God in a sunset
so pretty it makes you cry.
You find God in every warm embrace
and in a lover’s sigh.

You find God in generosity,
and in the meek and mild.
You find God in any gentle soul
who kneels to help a child.

You find God in the soft, pink light
when a new day has begun
and in the flower by the window
as it opens to the sun.

And yes, you find God in the dying
as the light fades in their eyes
and their spirit slowly slips away
to its true home in the skies.

God is in every one of us.
We can feel it when we’re young.
Then we’re snatched up by the world
and into the fray we’re flung.

We grow cynical and weary
and forget all that we once knew
when the peace and joy God gave us
has lost its native hue.

Oh, if only they knew, John! If only they knew!
What a wonderful world they might win
if they could only see past their differences
to the spirit that dwells within.”

He was shocked by these new revelations.
His mind spun around and around.
The chains that tethered his spirit in life
Lay shattered in pieces on the ground.

His parents said, “Welcome to heaven.”
He felt a peace he never thought he would know
and though his mortal life had just ended,
it seemed like a long time ago.

Then a hush fell all through the firmament.
Impossible colors filled the air, far and near.
His peace grew so deep, he sobbed out loud
and his mother whispered, “Look! God is here!”

– Mark Rickerby

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More Kindness Than Danger (travel story)

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Here’s my story from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book, Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. There are 100 more stories in the book about living life fearlessly and accomplishing your dreams. You can buy one online, in your favorite bookstore, or order a signed copy from me here through Paypal. (Message me for payment info, etc.) I hope my story inspires your next great adventure.

More Kindness than Danger

Another spring had arrived and, with it, my familiar and frustrated wanderlust. I had waited years for my friends to go to Europe with me, but there was always some reason they couldn’t. I proposed the trip once again to the same friends and received the same excuses. I wasn’t going to let another year go by without making this dream come true, so I decided to take the trip alone. I bought a one-way ticket to Copenhagen and told my friends I would send them a postcard.

On the day of my departure, I was excited but also surprised at how worried I felt—not just about being lonely, but also about the dangers I might encounter. My parents also questioned the wisdom of walking around Europe alone for months. They warned me not to be too trusting, to stay out of bad neighborhoods, and to avoid going out by myself at night. In retrospect, it was cruel to subject them to such torment, but they eventually understood that I just wanted to see the beauty of the world while I was still young.

My own worry was more difficult to assuage. Maybe I had watched too many movies that showed the darker side of man’s nature. Conflict is the essence of drama, after all. All those movies about naïve vacationers being attacked, kidnapped or thrown into abusive prisons had taken their toll on my trust in people. Watching the six o’clock bad news didn’t help, either. But there was no turning back, so I hugged my parents goodbye, got a ride to the airport from a friend, and flew into the big, blue sky and complete uncertainty.

It was early April, but snow was still on the ground in Copenhagen when I landed. Determined to be frugal, I chose the cheapest youth hostel in my travel guide. As I slept that first night on an ancient, unpleasant-smelling mattress beside a cracked, graffiti-covered wall, homesickness began to overwhelm me. I thought, What am I doing? I could be home in my clean, comfortable bed. But even that wasn’t there anymore because I had vacated my apartment and sold most of my belongings to finance this trip. I sat up, took out a miniature flashlight and found a note in my pocket that a friend back home had given me. He had written down the name and number of someone he knew in Copenhagen named Lisbeth. He said she would be happy to take me in for a few days. I decided to call her the next morning, and then fell asleep from exhaustion.

When I arrived at her door, she welcomed me like family and showed me the sights of Copenhagen for several days. I felt so accepted by her and her friends and had so much fun that I forgot to feel homesick.

One night, they took me to a karaoke bar. Word got around that I was from California, so someone asked me to sing a Beach Boys song. I chose “California Girls” but changed “California” to “Copenhagen.” The syllable count was a perfect match. The first time I sang “I wish they all could be Copenhagen girls,” everyone cheered, and I made a hundred friends instantly.

That’s another thing about movies. Nobody can sit in a bar in a movie without some group of drunken nincompoops harassing them. But this bar was filled with the nicest people imaginable. It was just another example of the skewed reality of cinema. Travel was working its magic. My faith in human beings was being restored.

I stayed in Copenhagen for a week before moving on. I was alone again, but invigorated by a great first week away from home. My solitude didn’t last long, however. I found travel companions everywhere I went, especially on the trains. My backpack was a silent invitation to other wayfarers to join forces and see something new together.

With only four thousand dollars, I didn’t know how long I would be able to travel. I ended up stretching it out for six months. When I wasn’t sleeping at youth hostels or the homes of new friends, I saved money by sleeping in train stations or on moving trains between one destination and another, roughing it for the sake of extending the adventure. Besides, with so many new people to get to know and so much world to see, sleep wasn’t much of a priority. It wasn’t just that, though. I wasn’t tired anymore. The continuous excitement of exploration freed me from the weariness that often plagued me at home.

While my friends back home repeated another typical summer, I awoke to the view of cotton clouds drifting through a pastel blue sky above Venice, Italy, as opera students practiced arias in the square below my hotel window. I dipped my feet in the cool water of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and imagined I had discovered the fountain of youth. I watched the sun rise over the red tile roofs of Florence. I held hands with a Parisian beauty at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I sat silently in the cool air of a mountainside prairie in Switzerland as spring exploded around me. I parasailed over Swiss Alps so fertile that the lake below them was bright yellow with floating pollen.

I watched a rainbow form over the Irish Sea. I held my hand against the cold monoliths of Stonehenge and felt their mystery flood through me. I read poetry by candlelight in a cave at the base of the mountain the Acropolis stands upon while colorful hot-air balloons filled the night sky in the distance. I recited a monologue under a full moon at the Theatre of Dionysus. I walked the ancient cobblestone streets of Athens. I danced all night in a Greek disco pulsating with life. I watched a golden sunfish sail past my rowboat in the Aegean Sea and imagined it was Zeus taking the shape of a fish to observe me more closely. I walked through ancient ruins and felt with an ache how brief my existence is, but how sacred and powerful it is for that same reason.

And through it all, I had time—that most precious commodity—to read, write, watch and really see, to listen and really hear, and to savor my life while gazing through the moving church of a train window. I discovered what Joseph Campbell meant when he said people aren’t as interested in the meaning of life as they are in the experience of being alive.

I arrived home with less than a dollar in my pocket, but with a heart and soul overflowing with riches and dozens of new stories to tell. Traveling alone can seem intimidating at first, but the world is full of kindness and generosity, and they are both showered upon us for prices anyone can afford—respect, friendliness, and an open heart.

I’m twenty-five years older now, and those same friends who didn’t come with me on that adventure can’t recall what was important enough to make them stay home back then. My problem these days is not fear of travel or distrust of humanity; it’s being content at home. The desire for adventure only grows stronger with age. How can one have enough fun? Romance? Awe? A world full of wonders, ever-pulsating outside my window, still calls me to new adventures, but now I accept the invitations fearlessly, knowing the rewards far outweigh the risks, and there is much more kindness in this world than danger.