Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Call to Adventure: Step 1 of the Hero's Journey

The call to adventure is the point in a person's life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.

I can't remember the exact date I first thought about walking across the United States relying on the hospitality of friends and strangers. Maybe it has always been percolating just underneath the surface as I took my other travels: South Africa & Zimbabwe in '96, driving cross country in '98, Guatemala in '01, Greyhound bus across the US in '03. I have always been fascinated by the theme of hospitality shown to strangers. I love the passage in Les Miserables where Victor Hugo describes how the kindly bishop in a small French town offers Jean Valjean a place to stay and a beautiful meal despite the fact that he is wearing the yellow ticket of a former felon. Valjean takes advantage of the bishop's hospitality by stealing away in the middle of the night with his best silver. Yet, from that encounter comes the point of Valjean's redemption. After he is caught with the bishop's silver and hauled back to the house by the police, the bishop reports in front of the police and the baffled Valjean that it was a gift. Instead of going back to prison for life, he is free. What's more, he has the valuable silver with which to start a new life. Kindness and grace has a power to change people's life that recrimination and punishment don't possess.

I know that shortly after I moved from LA to Philadelphia I consciously hatched the idea of walking part way across America. Some years ago I had read "Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins and it took hold in my mind that something like that could be done. More recently I read Bill Bryson's book "A Walk in the Woods" about his trek up the Appalachian Trail and I was struck by how he weaved humor and narrative together in such a readable fashion. All these influences worked their invisible magic and one day I knew on some level that this was an adventure I was destined to take.

At that time I didn't connect it with the reading I had done of Joseph Campbell and his mythical archetypes. But as I have thought about it more over the years - wrestling with Refusal of the Call (Step 2) - it has become obvious that for me this is a Hero's Journey. It is my opportunity to shed my former self and re-imagine and recreate my life as a work of art.

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