What if I don’t make it?
I asked this 14 minutes into my Adventure. And 2 hours in. Again that night and first thing in the morning. What if I fail?
Writing this I sit in a sunlit library in historic Natchez, Mississippi.
Talvin Singh floats in my ears (soundtrack!). My bicycle stands ready to eat up the road. My host, a seventy year old antique dealer, promises a send-off breakfast.
And gods willing, in a few days I’ll bike into bustling New Orleans. I’ll unite with missing friends and lwas and put down roots for the winter.
I have a hard time believing I came this far. But I always believed. I get a break now, a time to rest and write my words, but I will go on, ever on, till I meet the gods. Till I find my fate and affix my mark to the world.
Before I return to that maelstrom, that uncertainty of the road, I must record what I’ve seen. If my journey leads me to peril, at least this much is preserved. So here is what I found:
Humanity is essentially Good.
To be human is to desire friends, love, kin. You cannot get that unless you offer it. So our most private desire demands that we act morally.
This is probabilistic. Like Wikipedia, it’s correct overall but not in every case. You can find an article full of bullshit; you can find a human being with criminal intent. But if you gamble on it, taken on the whole, you’ll come out ahead: the information is right, and the people you meet are Good.
A stranger is someone just like you, who wants to be liked and cares about your wellbeing.
This crosses all lines. Race, political faction, age will change what a person sees when you meet. But it does not change that core desire, or the behavior it demands. It does not undermine the beauty of the human heart.
It’s how our ancestors survived. Alone, separated from the tribe, if you saw a fire and smelt cooked meat, you hoped and prayed these strange people would share; and if you sat by your fire and roasted your meat, you would feel sad and alone to hoard it.
Abandon any scripture, any faith that starts with sin.
We are not born with sin; we do not harbor sin deep within our being. We are seeds that love the sun, growing ever upward toward it. We can be bent and twisted by an unfair wind, but most will reach forever toward that light.
I have crossed 1,600 miles by myself: a short distance. I have knocked on doors, visited churches, leaned against trees and slept in the rain. I have been hungry, tired, injured, and fevered. I have gone places where I felt alone, and strange. The only pale-skinned person in a camp of dark-skinned people; the northern voice in a drawling Southern town.
And the only priest of the old gods.
These are not accomplishments. They’re challenges. One does not seek these situations, one only accepts them as necessary hurdles along a greater Journey.
But during those moments, those unwanted moments of fear, I have been taught every time and without fail: people are Good.
Do you disagree? Then travel further than me. Go to stranger places. Be more alone, be more different, be needier than I was. Place yourself in that position of ultimate vulnerability, alone and helpless among strangers, and find out for yourself. If humanity lets you down, I consider your point proven. But every day I have tested it, and never found my fellows lacking.
In his garden, the antique dealer stenciled words from Isaac Stern:
“Strive for Beauty and Humanity.”
Like a ship seeking safe landing, it is a search you can never give up. You have no choice, you must push on. Turn from the cold winds of cynicism and cast your eyes upon the distant shore.
Strive always for Beauty and Humanity.