Photo by James Windsor
To chase the Heroic Life is to adventure. To live free, travel as you wish, pursue your art, gleefully face challenges and—always—carry your ideals above you.
This may be a solitary life.
It has been for me. I have a vision of changing that. Seekers, first two or three, then six or eight, then dozens, who travel in loose bands to seek out challenge and choose their fates.
And what will these brave, questioning, wanderlust souls need?
The Heroic Life is not the only way. For every itinerant adventurer there must be a thousand happy householders. The myth of my generation is that everyone wants to travel, everyone wants to adventure. But they don’t. For some it’s not practical, it holds no appeal.
But everyone can share in the Heroic Life. Wandering or settled, errant or rooted, daring or careful: everyone is part of the story.
Sharing What We Have
One conceit of the Heroic Faith is that travel is a spiritual practice. It changes the course of lives, teaches what nothing else will teach, and leads the wanderer to a sense of purpose.
I believe that. I live it.
And I learned that my travels don’t just change me—they can change the people around me.
I came into towns sweaty, tired, feeling broken and ready to sleep. I didn’t feel inspiring. I was grateful for what people gave me, and for what basic comforts I could bring with me.
In the morning I was told: We will never forget you.
In some way that I can’t plan or understand, the very fact of what I’m doing affects people.
I experienced the other side of this, too. In St. Louis and Vicksburg I stayed with other travelers. One, a brilliant photographer, had quit her job to travel around the United States taking pictures. In some ways her story is so similar to mine, in other ways so different (she’s a better planner, for one). But just meeting her and knowing that she was on her quest inspired me, filled me with ideas and hopes.
Travelers have momentum. And we share.
An Even Exchange
If you are not inclined, able, or ready to drop your lifestyle and travel, here is how you can share the Heroic Life: help a traveler.
When you help a traveler, two things happen.
First, you make an immediate and dramatic impact in a human life. Travelers of all kinds, wealthy and boot-strapped alike, have uncertainty in their lives. No amount of money makes up for the freak storm, the broken axel, the missed connection. And no grand hotel can promise that most basic sustenance, human contact.
Helping a traveler reminds them that they are not alone in the world.
At the same time, the traveler has a chance to share with you something they couldn’t share with anyone else. There is no connection as profound as an evening with someone on a different path. When I stayed with a fierce conservative, I felt no hatred for his politics: only a deep sympathy for the loss of his wife. He taught me lessons about love, grief, and the bravery to carry on.
When you first open your door to a traveler, they will be hesitant. They want to make sure they don’t overstep, want to check that you don’t feel obligated.
When they see that the offer is made with love, the traveler will feel a sense of refuge. Something as simple as a shower or a beer can be a poignant reminder of the goodness in the world.
And as they replenish they will begin to share with you, and learn eagerly what you have to share.
We carry our gods with us, but where do we find them? In the voices and actions of the people who treat us with love.
There are many ways to help a traveler. Pull over on the roadside when you see a breakdown. Talk to backpackers, bicyclists and hobos when you see them. Register with Couchsurfing.org and offer your floor or couch or spare bed for a night.
In the end, no one is a hero. But we can always choose to help each other. That is the great strength of our species, and the reason I love humanity.
Has anyone ever helped you when you didn’t expect it?
I’m writing my first novella. The end of summer, a failing crop, the desperate touch of an uncertain lover—and magic. Lúnasa Days.