A memory came to me in vivid detail as I sat in the white graduation chairs this past Friday night, as I listened to the high schoolers talk about their 4 years, as I watched Alicia walk up the steps to receive her diploma. I had forgotten it.
Some Saturday in mid-winter when I was seventeen and still not allowed to have a driver’s license, my mom dropped me off in a wood lot in Raleigh. It was Warmth for Wake, a service project devoted to delivering wood to county residents whose homes do not have heat in winter. It was my first time falling out of our SUV into the oak and pine chips, shivering; I tugged at my work gloves. My mother, about to leave, leaned out her window to inform Mr. Monaco, the Ravenscroft supervisor at the wood lot, that I was not to get in a car with teenagers, even to deliver wood. He assured her that he would keep me in the area loading logs.
I can’t remember how many trucks and trailers I loaded in the icy morning, breath and axes flying, clouds of condensed air and heavy sounds of wood breaking. However, at one moment, a group of guys a grade below me helped me finish loading their truck, stepped up into the metal stirrups to get into the car, then turned, and I was invited along; I was stepping up behind them, pressed into a middle seat in the back of the six-seater truck , and we were on the road before I could smile or Mr. Monaco’s steady eye could blink.
All the windows were down and a radio channel I would never listen to was on, my hair whipped and I was so cold in the chill and ice-winter air inside the truck, but I would never complain, so grateful was I to be squeezed in the middle, driving down the roads (perhaps it was slowly, since we had a heavy load of logs to deliver), and on the highway on and on and on toward Wake Forest and beyond. I lost track of streets until I was in a part of Raleigh I didn’t recognize, nor could ever find again, until we were on a dirt road and the road split and we crashed through a mud puddle and tumbled through low branches; ivy and grasses began to overtake our path, then we slowed at a peeling white home, sagging roof, weeds, broken cars, trash bags piled high, high, high. Two people stood on the stoop, a middle-age couple, life-tired smiles on their faces—they seemed urgent and gracious as they stepped down eager to our truck. We tumbled out, five teenagers in jackets and gloves. We unloaded the wood fast; the man living at the house helped; the woman stood and apologized for the trash bags.
Then we drove away, stopped to get gas along the highway, returned to the wood lot. Mr. Monaco yelled at me for leaving despite my mother’s explicit instructions to not ride in a car with teenagers and for disrespecting him and her. He said he’d be calling my home later. The threat left me frightened, but I intelligently forewarned my mother of the phone call and why he would be calling. She wasn’t upset, and I joyfully learned a precious lesson that day:
Everything is risky. Risk it anyway. There was a truck and an open door, an empty seat in a heavy vehicle with rolled-down windows; there were four teenage guys and warning from my mother; there was a supervisor watching my back and axes were involved. Yet, I saw that truck and that open door and I climbed into that empty seat despite the rolled-down windows, boys, and warnings. We could have crashed and died (my mother’s fear about me riding with other youth), but we arrived in a place I had never seen before, and my eyes were opened. To the poverty living right beside me every day in my middle class Raleigh home. To warm, gentle people who do not even have the ability to run electricity in their home in winter. I traveled into another world with one little risk: I ignored the warnings and threats and ran with the opportunity presented. Not reckless. Just curious, wondering, wanting adventure and to see the world. And I did. In some small way, I saw the world that day. If I had stayed in the wood lot, safe, protected, and controlled, I would not have experienced that day like I did when I slid into the cracked backseat.
Today, I feel the same. I am flying to Reykjavik, Iceland. Everything that lies ahead of me has its own share of risks—big risks and small risks, fear risks. I’m always risking being lost, falling short of my ambitions; I may not even make it out of the airport, I may hate what I’ve decided to do. But I doubt I will hate it; I doubt I will fall short. I may get lost. I may get scared. I know that I am nervous. But I am fronting all risk and traveling anyway, risking anyway (whatever risks there may be, small-woman-student-traveling-alone that I am), and I am imagining the winter wind that swept into the back of the truck that Saturday in high school and made me unbearably cold and breathless. That annoying cold was ambiance and courage; it tore apart the warnings and fear of what was waiting for me back at the wood lot and put me in the chilled moment. In the goosebumps, on the back road, outside the run-down home of the people we helped that day, I was present, and it was vivid; I was learning and fearless. Now, it is the same: I am forgetting everything that I’m leaving behind, the busyness and hardships, and I am present, ready to learn, fearless. This moment shall be vivid. Bring on the Islands, the foreign languages, the unfamiliar streets and let it be uncertain. Everything’s uncertain. I feel the excitement that lies therein.