“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
This is what Bilbo Baggins said to Gandalf when faced with the prospect of leaving his comfortable life to go on a vague quest with a group of strangers. And he was absolutely right.
Adventures are hard work. I mentioned in my post about homesickness some of the difficulties I am having in Costa Rica, and most of those have not magically disappeared. Life is still hard every day. In my weak moments, I sometimes choose to not leave the house because it is just easier to not have to try to talk to anyone when I can’t understand half of what they say.
The Hobbit wasn’t my favorite book when I read it, partly because Bilbo was so hesitant and unenthusiastic about the adventure and partly because instead of having the group of trusty friends that is usually included in quest stories, he had a group of dwarves he didn’t understand and a wizard he also didn’t understand, but was his link to sanity. These are now the reasons I really appreciate The Hobbit.
I would like to think that if I had been in Bilbo’s situation, as soon as the word “adventure” came out of Gandalf’s mouth, I would be on my way. And maybe that would have been the case, but it wouldn’t have made the adventure itself any easier. I understand the Bilbo who was alone and always unsure and thinking about the (boring) comfort of the Shire, because that’s who I was, and still am at times, on my own adventure. But, as Gandalf said (in the movie):
“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.”
I spent enough time living the adventures of fictional characters to want my own. Now that I can apply some of the lessons I learned in those books, I’m starting to make a list of adventure survival tips.
- Survival is the first priority. Mom, I promise my life is generally no more in danger here than it is at home. Actually, that’s my point exactly. Even when it’s Sunday night and I have three presentations, two essays, and an original poem–all in another language–due within the next two days, it helps to realize I will (probably) achieve the basic goal of life no matter what happens. Actually, my to-do list tends to look something like this:
- Acknowledgement of own awesomeness is key. So I happened to be writing this particular post when I almost didn’t go play volleyball (alone, with strangers who don’t speak my language), and after I returned, instead of finishing this post, I wrote about how I accidentally ended up on the university volleyball team. I’m pretty impressed with myself. Yeah, it’s great that fate conspired to let me into something that makes me feel competent and that I love, but it feels even better that I intentionally took the hard way without knowing how big the reward would be. Even in Texas, I never went to the Rec when they had open gym for volleyball because I couldn’t get anyone to go with me. Now I know that while it’s nice to be able to have some of my comfort zone with me when I do new things, I’m capable of going into something alone.
- Acknowledgement of own dependence is the other key. Every time I move somewhere new, whether it’s six hours from home to a university, 400 meters from one dorm to another, or a few countries south, I’ve had displacement anxiety. It’s not so much the location. When I say I miss home, I don’t mean I’m homesick, because at this point, I’m really not. I miss the people I depend on, who are aware of my strengths and know I am a capable person, the people who know me well enough to tell me when I’m being an idiot. It’s hard to depend on people, even the people who love me, who are thousands of miles away living completely different lives. I could say this had made me realize my own independence and how I don’t need anyone to depend on, and it has in some ways. More importantly, though, stripping away the people and things I lean on makes me realize how much I really do depend on the God who speaks every language, the God who will be with me no matter what (or who) I have or don’t have.
- Take the hard way. The easy way for me right now is to stay in my room all day and read about my friends’ lives (in English!) on Facebook. But that’s not why I’m here. I’ve started to take a Yes Man mentality and get out and do things. Once I started doing that, my days started taking on a pattern where I would wake up feeling like a failure because I still couldn’t speak well, I already wanted a nap, and I had so much I have to do, but then I would go to sleep feeling like a success because of all I had accomplished in the day, and I knew I was doing something right.
- Recognize accomplishments. Every sentence I say in Spanish that would have been easier to say in English expands my Spanish skills. Every time I walk instead of taking the bus, I save 40 cents. These are little things that help a lot. It’s so easy to focus on my failures, to focus on how long it took me to figure out how to say that word in the preterite and forget how smooth and natural my conversation in present tense was. If I focused on all the things I’m incapable of, I would be insane by now. And while big things like making the volleyball team are great encouragement, sometimes the little things are just as important. Yesterday I checked out a book from the library and spent the rest of the day congratulating myself on my bravery.
Costa Rica is not the kind of adventure I expected. It’s not an adventure of beaches and ziplining every weekend and watching the impressed looks on people’s faces when the white girl starts speaking perfect Spanish. It’s not a comfortable adventure, it’s not an easy quest.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“‘Go back?’ he thought. ‘No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!’ So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.’”