I fancy myself an explorer. Granted, I am exploring from a dirty airplane window that measures about 1 foot by 1 foot. And, I am exploring behind layers of plexi glass from the safety of a seat that comes with a three course dinner and free wine.
It is the trapped person’s version of exploring.
Still, I explore like I am Christopher Columbus looking for a land called plentiful. I explore like a botanist scouring the hillside for all things yellow; like a paleontologist devours the land for bones; like an astrologist scans the heavens for stars that shine brighter than the average ball of fire blazing in the loneliness of space.
Where else can you see winter’s first powder on the top of the highest mountains? Where else can you trace the tiny blood vessels, streaks of red, pulsing through the Great Salt Lake? Where else can you see a quilt of land, square by square, and name it after every childhood friend that you had? Where else can you count the clouds and follow a river that cuts through a valley far away from any road or house or alley? Where else can you look and see nothing but baby blue for hundreds- thousands- millions of miles in front of you?
In a world where gravity ties my feet to a dirty ground and my eyes don’t often have the time or vantage point to scour the earth for treasures, I take my job as explorer of the heavens from seat 3E, American Airlines, Seattle to Dallas, very seriously.
From where I sit, every beautiful thing in the world belongs to me. Every mountain peak covered in snow. Every billowing cloud. Every city grid. Every river weaving through a land of plenty. Every plot of earth measured into perfection. First brown. Then green. Then the color of fall. Not quite dead. But not fully alive.
When I was a little girl you could almost always win a trip to NASA space camp in Huntsville, Alabama by being on some sort of game show on Nickelodeon.
I considered it the biggest failure of fourth grade that I did not secure myself a spot on the kid’s game show, Double Dare. Gone were my hopes of winning a trip to space camp. Gone were the visions that I would shoot into outer space with my sleeping bag, New Kids on the Block slap bracelets, and Lisa Frank notebook in hand, where I would faithfully document all my findings on the moon.
I had this dream of what it must be like to circle the earth and stare at the stars. To sink my feet into moon boots and feel the powder kick up around me as I went on my exploration for moon rocks and small critters that I would most certainly sneak back down to earth and give to my sisters as pets.
My dreams of exploring were not just moon based.
I found myself rummaging through my Mamaw and Papaw’s attic for lost family heirlooms (and I found them, the complete original series of Nancy Drew books), roaming through the woods in search of snake skins and dead animals (what explorer doesn’t poke around a dead carcass to figure out the precise cause of death?), and I desperately longed to explore my dad’s underwear drawer (keep reading, otherwise I’ve crossed over into creepy).
My mom was chaotic, unorganized, and disheveled. I followed in her footsteps, stuffing- and ultimately forgetting about- dirty clothes and plates of food under my bed in order to pass the “clean room” test.
My dad however was methodical, organized, and not nearly as lost in the world as my mom was.
And that made him a mystery.
Mom could never find scissors and scotch tape when it was time to wrap a present. But dad always could. He always knew where they were. So one day I followed him and I saw him sneak it out of his top dresser drawer where I knew he kept his whitey tighties.
From that moment on, I knew my dad was brilliant in a way that my mom and I would never be. And this made me curious. What other resourceful utensils does he have in his underwear arsenal?
Though I was terribly afraid of being caught and punished, the explorer got the best of me; I needed to discover the inner workings of my dad’s dresser drawers.
As I got older, the exploration changed.
I was on a quest to figure out life. I needed to explore love and lust and passion. Meaning and purpose. Pain and suffering. And I needed to know once and for all what God had to do with any of it. Whether believing in Jesus or Buddha or the Dalai Lama, really made a difference.
Moon rocks were so much easier to explore.
So was my dad’s underwear drawer.
Life was so much less complicated then. When the thrust of my explorations were secret attics, the woods behind my house, and imaginary trips to the far side of the ocean where treasure troves awaited me.
Somedays I long to be that little girl again.
And somedays I am...
Sitting in seat 3E.
Naming the mountains.
Counting the clouds.
Discovering a marbled lake that I am sure no other human has ever seen with the naked eye.
I choose to be an explorer in moments like these because I need to explore beautiful things in the midst of a life that is often laced with dark caverns I never planned on falling into.
Forced exploration is the worst.
I bet the people on the ground during Apollo 13 would agree with me. Or maybe the team coming up with the escape plan for the recently freed Chilean miners know what I am talking about.
Exploring under duress is no exploration at all; it is forced survival.
Cancer. Chemo. Death. Dying. Pain. Betrayal. Longing. Unmet desires. Unfulfilled dreams. Questions of faith that sometimes seem to have no solid answers. Money. Guilt. Wearily raising children. Fighting for your marriage. A world that runs off of the constant ticking of a clock (did you know that Americans can give you the time, within ten minutes, whether they have looked at a clock in the past two hours or not? That’s how attuned we are to the seconds ticking away).
In the midst of this life, with our feet on the dirty ground, there are many times we find ourselves simply surviving.
So when we get the chance to be more than survivors...
when we get the chance to explore...
the laugh of someone we love. the smile on a child’s face. the way the new mattress cradles our body. the sound of our mother’s laugh. the way our dad pillages scotch tape away. the way it feels to hold someone’s hand. the smell of fall. the touch of grass on the bottoms of our feet. the giddiness of playing in the leaves. the excitement of a new book. the easiness of a day spent on the couch watching football. a warm bath. a few minutes to sit on a bench and study the ants marching by. or taking 118 pictures of the world passing by under our nose in seat 3E...
We fancy ourselves explorers.
Because we get to.
Because we need to.
Because life is about more than simply surviving.