A series of short, frequent reflections from the road. Education transformer and author Grant Lichtman begins a long, largely solo journey around the US and Canada in search of wisdom traditions in overlooked communities that we can better pass along to the rising generation. Learn more at www.grantlichtman.com and join the journey in real time on the Wisdom Road Facebook Group.
This moment and mixture of excitement and discomfort roils my belly and tangles up my mind.
For more than half of my life, home has been a swath of Southern California coast between the granite-knobbed hills fifteen miles behind me and the gentle Pacific breakers a few yards to my front. I press my feet into tawny-white sand, cooling now after a good scorching in the afternoon California sun. Late August, the tourists have gone home, the beach is quiet, as it will be through the fall and winter. The sun’s fiery orange disk is slipping down towards a cloudless horizon. The rest of the sky, north, south, overhead, and east is a bowl blending seamlessly from orange through white to flawless robin’s-egg blue.
The westerly breeze that always rises in the forenoon, has vanished two hours before sunset. Just over there, ten yards down the beach, the waves break a bit better than anywhere else along this stretch of coast. I’ve bodysurfed within a few yards of that spot for more than a half century, and our kids for half that time. Just over there; that’s where I have asked the kids, when the time comes, to sneak my ashes past the lifeguards and release them into the waves on a falling tide.
This land of sand, hills, jammed freeways, golf courses, strip malls, downtowns, tourist hotels and mercurial modern suburbs; Mexico del Norte meets Hollywood del Sur; mega beach mansions and bristling barrios; vegan delis, crispy lumpia, savory falafel, sizzling-spicy carnitas; hot yoga mats next to born again; bright Native casino lights. This brass ring was the extreme corner of American continental migration until even the great ocean could not hold back the most manifest of destinies, it seems.
A few miles south an arbitrary line divides the current incarnations of the United States and Mexico. Westward stretches ocean for a third of the earth. Tomorrow and for the next two years all of my wandering paths lie between north-northwest and east-southeast from this spot at the heart of my compass rose.
Like the afternoon sun, my life is likely closer to setting than to apogee. One never knows how long before we reach that last horizon. It’s time to go. This moment and mixture of excitement and discomfort roils my belly and tangles up my mind. Doing is dirty and messy, filled with failure and disappointment. Babies fall on their faces when they “do” walking. Kids skin their knees when they “do” bike riding and flail at softly-tossed pitches when they “do” baseball. Vegetables don’t flourish in a book garden. Motors don’t start and toilets don’t repair themselves when you finish watching a video on YouTube.
I’ll find hints and trailheads, building blocks scattered by many who have walked ahead of me. I’ll see a lifetime of crushed-rock parking lots and weathered country diners; hear my fill of coyotes howling at the edges of my fire. I’ll embarrass myself and unavoidably upset kind strangers, take wrong turns down one-way roads, ask stupid questions, and good questions in the wrong way before I find my stride. But when I do, my hands will be filthy with the clean dirt of doing. My muscles-of-understanding will be stronger because of the workouts that worked well and those that didn’t, because of the miles they traveled, both in the right directions and down seemingly harsh dead ends.
Learning is always a road. Roads go places, whether they are asphalt or dirt, wide or narrow, converging at the top of a peak, diverging in a yellow wood, or just overworked metaphors. Roads untraveled have no meaning in our past and no purpose for our future. Do pilgrims always know where they are going? I don’t. I have an idea that I will find what I am looking for, but the worst that can happen is that I will have been wrong.