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The Great Unknown


I just finished a book. It was a great book. The main character was engaging. The adventure was satisfying and the conclusion…. well, that’s the thing. The conclusion of a great book always comes too soon. You can see the end as you count the pages that are left. You want it somehow slow down or magically have pages added to the end. I mean, you can just stop reading, but that’s no help. All you can do when you know you are reaching the end is to enjoy the narrative as much as you can. Why is it so hard?

Here’s the thing…

The moment you read those last words, you have no choice but to say goodbye. And the moment you read those last words, you are no longer in the lives of those protagonists that you have learned to love and, for a brief time, lived life with. It’s like losing best friends. Suddenly you are out of their fictitious world with no way to return. You know the moment the cast of Friends leave to go to the coffeeshop for the last time, and you are not invited? Or when Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley and the rest walk into the light and you are left behind feeling a little lost? You want to go with! You want the story to go on and on. You’re not ready to say goodbye. However it’s not your choice. You are finished. You are left behind. You panic a little. Your mind tries to find it’s bearing. As much as you want to argue and fight and yell, the story has come to an end. The book is over.

And yet your heart is still full with the memory of something life-changing like only some of the best novels can bring you. You get up from your reading chair, put down the dog-eared volume and walk outside into the real world still feeling the pangs of regret in your chest. As much as I hate that feeling, I love it too. The sun is brighter. The air smells purer. The birds are singing. You have this bitter-sweet syrup running through your veins.

I always like taking a really long walk after such an experience. I like to let my mind wander around the events I had just shared with the protagonist; the setup, adventure, intrigue, climax and anti-climax spins around my head as I walk mile after mile after mile. But the same road that led me to reminisce eventually brings me back home. And yes, there is always another book to grab and read, but you just don’t want to yet. You don’t want to mix up the memories and worlds of what you just finished. So I usually take a deep breath, look around at the beauty of the day once more and wonder what’s next. What’s next, of course is anyone’s guess. Maybe what’s next is life continued, the same old same old. But maybe it’s something else. What’s next can be an un-had adventure. What’s next could be a fantastic episode. What’s next can be a delightful surprise. Anything can happen because you’re about to jump to someplace new…

…the great unknown.

Once on a hike in the Appalachians I was coming down a mountain in the Presidential Range and looked out into the valley. The site took my breath away. For as far as the eye could see there was just a sea of green. The tree canopy from above looked like a fuzzy blanket covering an endless landscape. We pulled out our maps and found out it was called the “Great Gulf Wilderness” and it look like it lived up to it’s name. I had to sit and stare out into that great unknown. Someone could walk out there and never be heard from again. It looked like one could go there and be lost forever. It would be beautiful as you traveled under that colossal canopy, but what if you made a wrong turn? There it was in all of it’s intimidating glory and it was in our path. Here we stood right on the edge of it, looking into the void and having the void look back into us.

What to do?

You can go back, but you’ve already been there.

You can give up, but then you’ll be sitting where you are forever.

You can go home and lie to everyone about your adventures in the great beyond, knowing full well that you looked into the unknown and flinched.

Or you can take your first step into what is next. And who knows.

Who knows indeed?

This can be your biggest mistake. This can be your best decision. This could be the end of happiness as you know it. This could be the beginning of a hilarious rollercoaster ride. The only way to know is to take a step…

..one single step into the great unknown.

And if the ground holds true, maybe you can take another. And then another. Soon you will find it’s too late to go back. For good or ill, your adventure has begun. And yes, there is danger going into something that you don’t control. It’s like the words of that mad hobbit Bilbo as he gave his famous nephew some sage advice, ““It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

No knowing indeed.

But I would encourage you taking that step. I’ve done it many times. And every time I stood on that precipice I think about my doubters and nay-sayers. I think about all those who must see me as small, weak and cowardice. I wish for my prides sake they could look into my chest and see the fear and terror that resides there, but as they keep watching they see something take over… a steel of some kind, a shot of grit, a temperance of stone as I set my face as flint and stare out into that void, and lift my foot and step out…

…into nothing at all.

And I have a weird crooked smile on my face. I realize it wasn’t really steel that got me to take that step. It was madness; the pure, insanely crazy delight of madness. And then I’m off into the adventure where I have two mottos on my lips….

“Not all who wander are lost”

and

“We’re all mad here.”

And I am mad and I am lost, but I am going into the unknown, and that’s what life is about. It’s not about playing it safe. It’s not about snuggling in bed endlessly because you don’t know what the day will afford you. It’s not about getting a comfortable routine, with comfortable friends in a comfortable place. It’s about deciding to do something hard simply because it’s in that process that life is truly lived. Not an adrenaline rush, but a life of sacrifice. Not a safe bet, but a risk for what we know is eternal. Let me not get to the end of this life in a cozy and comfy robe, but rather broken, bleeding and dragging myself across the finish line with a smile on my face. And how do you begin that adventure?

Lift your foot. Take a step.

You’re off into that great unknown. And your not walking there because you love madness or because you’re bored where you were. And yes you’ll miss the life that you are leaving, but soon you’ll realize that you couldn’t have stayed there long anyways. It wouldn’t have been the same. The book has ended. It was a great book, and who knows. Maybe one day they’ll make a movie out of it. But you can’t live life in a closed book. It’s time to do what is next.

So you take that step for one irresistible reason…

…You have been called into that unknown.

He has set a path right into that valley of darkness, but you won’t go it alone. So welcome to the adventure. Welcome to the colossal void.

Welcome to the great unknown.

I’ll see you there!

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