The Joys of Wandering About

..but I preferred reading the American landscape as we went along. Every bump, rise, and stretch in it mystified my longing.  —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

T wo recent trips reminded me of the mind and soul expanding power of getting out of your backyard and wandering about. Both trips were to the West Coast: first northern California and then Whidbey Island across the Puget Sound from Seattle. In both cases, we had virtually no schedule or commitments leaving only our sense of adventure to guide us. These weren’t adrenaline seeking trips full of rigorous activity but journeys characterized by “wandering about.”

On the return trip from Seattle, an old essay entitled “On Wasting Time” kept coming to mind. The essay was written by James Michenor and appeared in the October 1974 Reader’s Digest. A friend of mine was gracious enough to introduce it to me a few years ago and its message has resonated with me on more than one occasion.  Here is an excerpt:

We all worry about wasting time, about the years sliding past, about what we intend to do with our lives. We shouldn’t. For there is a divine irrelevance in the universe that defies calculation. Many men and women win through to a sense of greatness in their lives only by first stumbling and fumbling their way into patterns that gratify them and allow them to utilize their endowments to the maximum. James Michenor, On Wasting Time

Michenor’s message is simple: “wasted” time in our youth gives us the experiences to draw upon for the ideas and creativity of our later years. Though the message is meant to encourage patience for those that appear to move without direction through their early years, I also see a broader directive for all of us at every stage of our lives: there is joy and value to wandering about, to experiencing more of the world even if that experience is generally viewed as a “waste of time.”

For many of us, what once may have been considered “wasted time” has now become vacation or sabbatical.  Those searching for lost youth embark on experiential trips ranging from pub crawls in unexplored cities to white water rafting along wildly unpredictable rivers in our national parks. As we get older and feel the “years sliding past,” we crave these experiences and fear wasting our time in an office or in some job that fulfills nothing but the necessity of our bank account.

..we crave these experiences and fear wasting our time in an office or in some job that fulfills nothing but the necessity of our bank account.

As I consider my recent trips, I’m left with a sense of scope – a breadth to the world. Even across the diversity of our American continent, there are so many common elements in the culture and the people. The comfortably familiar aspects of roadways and restaurants. The nature of the conversations. The banal yet reassuring elements of our airports; lines through security, lines at baggage claim, lines to board, lines to food. People working, struggling, thriving, moving, talking, seeing, and wandering their way through their own worlds – all while we view them from our seats as tourists.

Then, all of the familiar gives way to the new and undiscovered: hills, parks, roads, ferries, mountains, shops, foods, monuments, waterways, and people. Always people. Each new encounter yielding its own discoveries. Every bit of experience threading itself into the fabric of your life, your person. One of the more gratifying discoveries of these explorations is to recognize the differences between 20 year old “wasting time” and 48 year old “wandering about;” the primary difference being how we see the same things with dissimilar perspective. Or perhaps, not quite so dissimilar.

So wander about, waste some time. Let today’s questions go unanswered for a bit longer. Allow yourself and those you love a bit more latitude to collect experiences and add a few more pieces to their puzzle. Consider Walt Whitman’s words: “These are the days that must happen to you.” Then, let them happen.



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