“Something’s leaking, ” I tell Beth rather matter-of-factly. I’ve gotten used to this by now and keep my composure much better than I used to. My search under the truck doesn’t take long. A shimmering puddle grows below the front passenger tire.
Memories flash into my mind of Beth and I stranded on the side of the road, brake fluid pouring from a minute hole in one of the lines. But that was on a trip to a swimming hole in Asheville, with a stationary home to go back to, on level ground, near repair shops. Now we’re over 6,000 feet up the side of a twisting mountain road, a good hour from salvation. With hesitation I dip my fingers into the puddle, not wanting to know. I massage the fluid between my thumb and forefinger, inspect the clear fluid and take a whiff. The smell is reminiscent of a time I worked with my grandfather on a well-drilling rig.
Gear oil! Thank you for not being brake fluid!
I trace the leak up to the breather hose on our front differential. Hmm, never knew that could happen.
That’s just the thing, though – we could have never prepared ourselves for this. We had no idea that driving up Mount Lemmon would cause Darlene to nearly overheat, or that upon stopping to take in this gorgeous view we would be harshly greeted by the sickly smell of hot gear oil. Sure we could have pondered, postulated, researched and played the what-if game, but we would have never gotten anywhere. Instead we embraced the unknown and said, “let’s go here and see what happens.” So far that is how we’ve wound up halfway across the USA having the best time of our lives. It’s also how we wind up unsure of what’s next, in a pickle on the side of the road.
It is human nature to search for patterns in life, our brains like to categorize data so that our experiences are easier and quicker to process. When something unknown comes about, it can feel as though we are clutching at straws as our mind attempts to categorize and make sense of it. The unknown can be very frustrating and frightening for many folks, I know for a long time it was for me. As humans we crave structure, a sense of rigidity in the fluid movement of existence. We cling desperately to routine, attempting to extract meaning from this meaninglessness.
For a long time I battled depression. It seemed to always be a part of my life, hiding in the shadows, but never bothering me too much. But one night I remember brushing my teeth while looking into the mirror and having a sudden wave of anxiety crash over me, drowning my brain in dread. I looked into my eyes and realized I had no true idea of who I was. It was as if the curtain of life had been pulled back, briefly exposing the void of existence, of everything. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing with my life. I was terrified of dying. I was terrified of living. Everything felt meaningless and the fear of the unknown crippled me to the point that I only existed in one of two places – bed or work. For nearly a year I lived in this deep dark limbo of the mind, a place I would never wish upon my greatest enemy.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”
Thankfully I remembered teachings of Zen Buddhism that I had learned many years ago when dealing with another dark time in my life. I blew the dust off my old books and began to absorb myself in the writings and lectures of Alan Watts, Carl Sagan as well as other philosophers and mystics. I reached out to others who had felt this way, asked for advice. Months passed and eventually I found the mental ground to once again stand upon. I realized the beauty in the unknown and meaninglessness, of the here & now, of being. I resolved to live my life with less fear and instead embrace the world around me with less worry. I realized I can’t control anything that happens in life, I can only control how I react.
This shift in my consciousness led me to take a month long cross-country road trip by myself. I decided to leap head-first into that which terrified me – in order to understand the unknown and beat my fear of it, I became a part of it. This trip led me to discover a love of writing, a rediscovery for my passion of photography, as well as a new joy of meeting and connecting with strangers. It opened my eyes to the possibilities provided by taking a leap into the unknown. I gained affirmation and courage that I could accomplish damn near anything. I felt like a new man. It was amazing.
It was here, three years ago that I shaved my head as a symbol for new growth and got my tattoo of an Enso to remind me of the void.
Of course this joy wore off after coming home and getting caught up in the routine of daily life. The mundane repetition began to kill me once more. I craved the unknown, adventure, life! I knew there was more to all this than just working, so I vowed to not merely exist, but to live a life thick with experience.
Three years have passed since that initial road trip and I find myself now living the life I always dreamed of. Every day we awake to a new experience not knowing what is in store for us, hoping for the best but dealing with whatever comes our way, even when it’s undesirable. We’ve learned to accept the unknown as something beautiful, something to embrace even if it is hard at times, and trust me it still is. But fighting the unknowable, attempting to build a structure from the ether often leads to frustration and feeling defeated when things go awry. I believe there is a fine balance one must achieve, between being careless and being prepared; it’s helpful to stay on top of your situation so that you can be best informed on how to react, but as the Scottish poet Robert Burns is famously known for saying, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Often go awry.”
“Baby,” Beths warm moist breath tickles my ear, waking me. She lies prone next to me with her head propped up, staring out the window over our heads. Orange light illuminates her face as she gently whispers, “Look outside, it’s gorgeous!”
The glow of a still un-risen sun colors the landscape with a warm palette. I stand naked, too caught in the moment to care about clothes. Beth joins me, wrapped only in our Mexican blanket. I use my watch‘s sunrise calculator – 5:17AM and we’ll have daybreak. It’s 5:09. In silence we wait. On schedule, the sun crests the mountains in front of us. Early morning sunbeams kiss our faces, their warmth pushes away the chill of the night.
Thank you for this.
We had parked here in the dark, and until this moment had no idea we were parked in such an amazing spot. Life is beautiful, the unknown is beautiful. You can’t plan unforgettable moments like this.
In life, there is but one certainty we all share – death. Until then I implore you to push yourself into uncomfortable territory, follow the yearnings of your heart, and make a positive difference in the world. I encourage you to seek out and embrace the unknowns, to live a story-worthy life, thick with experience.