This is some Creative Non-Fiction I wrote for my Senior Capstone Class. We were asked to reflect on how our understanding of career and vocation has changed over the years.
Surfing, Surrendering, and Jedi Knights
I had it all planned out. At the first window of escape, better if a northern swell was bombarding Lower Trestles, I was going to sneak the keys off the hook in the kitchen, strap both mine and my brother’s surfboards to the top of dad’s Station Wagon, and with my graduation money, a jar full of change, and an acoustic guitar that used to be my grandpas, I was going to bum my way from beach to beach all along the western coast. My buddy Joe, who we all called Taco because he had this impossible to pronounce last name with almost all those letters in a row, made $47.65 improvising folk songs in front of Jacks at the Huntington Beach pier. His guitar case was an open jaw, inviting lazy beach eaters to hand over their change instead of forcing it someplace inside their pocketless bathing suits. It was a brilliant scheme. I would play at peak meal time hours, eat off of what I earned, surf all day, and then once a week, maybe, I would head a little farther north as I saved a little in gas money by eating as little as possible.
From the beginning I never planned on working. Not a real job anyway. I would play professional baseball, or become a monk; draw cartoons and animate them. After I saw The Sting with Robert Redford, I knew I was best fit to be a scammer.
When I got to college those dreams died quicker than Juliet. I tried to resurrect them, asked a professor what the best way to go about becoming a Jedi would be. He laughed. I didn’t, and once he realized I was serious, asked me what exactly I wanted to do with that. Jedi things, I said. Own a concealed weapon, speak in parables, understand the universe, and respond to all questions in wise, terse verse. It seemed simple enough: I would become a Samurai.
Education was getting me nowhere nearer to Japan, and my only hope left in becoming a Jedi was in particle physics. Some scientists, I had heard, were working on safely containing high concentrations of particle plasma within a magnetic field that could be switched on and off. The vessel in which they were conducting their research was a long, thin tube; easier to imagine if thought of as a saber.
Since I was no closer to becoming a Jedi, and a forcefielded beam of ultra-hot light sounded expensive, I decided to leave college and explore the world a bit. I travelled to South America, hiked the PCT, stealth camped in the middle of large metropolitan areas, and backpacked the Rockies. By the good grace of nature I learned that loneliness is no way to live. I craved community and communion. My legs felt an unreasonable lust to wander among men, rather than estranged from them. I felt incapable of conquering the squirmy feeling my feet sent up into my body whenever they tapped restlessly, but some being who also had, a long time ago, made a journey of his own, was inviting me to find a place that I could call home for a while, even if I was still a stranger in some way.
My coming to SPU was marked with a miracle. I was out on a long backpacking trip in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, camped at a now allegorically understood place named Wall Lake. Months before coming to this spot I had filled out something called a “common application” for SPU. It seemed a joke to me. The questions were uninviting and impersonal. There was no way the person reading it would ascertain any secret knowledge of my real self. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going back to Seattle. After this trip I was going home, or anywhere that was not a bar. At Wall Lake, for the first time in a long while, I stopped. I felt the inclination to fast for a day or two. Having dealt with hunger before as young wrestler both eating disordered and indifferent to food, I figured fasting would be nothing. I would hang around Wall Lake, do some day hiking, enjoy the weather; I would go about my mountain business as I always did. But at ten thousand feet, after three weeks of carrying an eighty pound pack, hiking nearly non-stop that entire time, and eating foods dense in calories to keep you moving at maximum efficiency—the body becomes a furnace. Missing breakfast forced me back into my sleeping bag. No lunch and no dinner meant I was shivering at night, not a calorie to spare to keep me warm. I was a rag the next day. Still cold, I laid myself out to dry like linen. I could have just been going crazy, but I swear it was God who asked me to surrender. He said nothing of school, only asked that I trust him. It was that simple.
When I got back to the place I was staying in Wyoming there was a letter waiting for me from my parents. Inside was my acceptance to SPU and an offer of financial aid that our family could actually afford. “No way,” I thought, “I’m not going back to Seattle.” But I remembered Wall Lake. It was time to do what I do best and start climbing.
It’s been three years since I first stepped onto this campus. It has taken the whole time for me to realize that I am home, but not. I am no student. I am a stranger to this system, its constraints, its standards, and its processes of evaluation. I am a sojourner. Somehow I feel out of place here and yet homesick for more. I have been overwhelmed with what the faculty and the people I have met here have extended to me.
What I am becoming is less selfish. What vocation means to me now is giving back. My teachers and friends have emptied themselves to see me become something. I want to do the same. Be a friend, be a father, be a lover, and a teacher. I don’t know what that will look like. I may never know until it is looking back at me.
I have gleaned belief from this place. We do our best for those who believe in us. And those whom we believe in. It is with terror that I open emails from my teacher gods who willingly give me a second chance to disappoint them.
And I might.
I could again, fail, but this time I feel the delighted difference of a disturbed trust inhabiting me. It is an overreaching on their part. A feeling in them, maybe, or an intuition. Something inside of me, they say, and I will monologue over that something they think they see as a cigarette burns out and a beer intended to muddle these moments hangs by its bottleneck in my hand. How far reaching that something is and how far one must recede into the inner in order to draw out whatever the hell it is they mean? That something, I know, is within them.
Maybe this: I choose.
And in looking back, see I had no choice. Reading emails like arrows, or like an acceptance letter that pushed you over a wall. I know providence in another person’s choice to choose.
And this I see in my future: to help people believe.
I welcome your thoughts!