Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A5: S3 - This American Life

So in my pursuits to start living a more fulfilled and happier life over the summer months, I have, surprisingly, stuck to my resolutions so far. I started one of the books I'd stolen from Marcus and... finished it. In the space of about an hour and a half, I read the entire book, and my sweet god, I think it changed my life.

But just as I was planning a post about this book, something else came out of the blue at me randomly.


A member of TWC that I get on well with, who, for reasonable reasons because of reasons, I shall name 'JK', sent me a message this morning;

'When I was in Nicaragua in January, an Aussie girl I was travelling with introduced me to a podcast called This American Life. It's a weekly radio show from Chicago that explores interesting and random stories and I literally fell in love with it and have been obsessed with it ever since. I strongly urge you to listen, here is today's...'

And sent me a link.



I was excited because I love it when people feel passionately enough about something to want to share it, whether it's to my taste or not. Not only that, but it had been recommended by him to someone too, and he was passing the influence on, which made it even more thrilling. (I am now, taking my turn to pass it on.) I clicked, '494: Hit the Road'. The podcast was 59 minutes long, and a part of me gave a little sigh. But then I thought to myself, what am I going to do with the next hour of my life? I have genuinely nothing to do for the rest of the day, yet in the same way as with reading, I find myself saying I don't have time for it. 

So I clicked play, and returned back to my other tabs whilst letting it play.

It wasn't long before I had to close every single other tab, push my laptop away and sit in silence, just listening to the words of the podcast.

This American Life is an archive of stories from a history of people. Just stories. Some good, some bad, some devastating, some unbelievably inspirational. All stories from all different kinds of people. And I am firm in the belief that no other story could have been more appropriate for me to hear at this point in my life.

I think it was fate.

494: Hit the Road is the story of a 23-year old man named Andrew Forsthoefel, who just one day, decided to start walking. 'After losing a job, he decided to try walking across America from his home in Philadelphia all the way to the Pacific. And he made it. 4,000 miles, talking to people he met along the way.' He walked with a sign that just said 'Walking to Listen', asking each person he met, what they would tell their 23-year old self and recording the audio of their responses.

If you've read any of my blog before, you will know that I am someone who is plagued by fears of getting older, haunted by the idea of wasted potential and am absolutely terrified of dying, having not made as much out of my life as I could.

I don't think I could've heard any other story which could've simultaneously echoed and soothed all of these fears which swirl so nervously in my heart, day after day.



The first part which got me, was his interview with a girl who'd recently lost a loved one.



“ After everything, there is a part of me that's kind of shut off a little bit, because there's a tiny fear. It's like the more people I get close to, the closer I get to someone, if they were to die, I would just hurt all over again. I know that's so morbid.

But on a day to day basis, I just try to appreciate things. You know, if I want to meet someone on the side of the road, I'm just going to do it. If I want to go somewhere, I just try to appreciate everything.
If you care about someone, tell them. Don't leave anything behind that you wouldn't want someone to see if you were to die. There's so many little lessons. But I don't now.

I don't know what the big life lesson is. But I definitely know to think before I speak. And when I talk to people, keep in mind that I might not talk to them again. And is that what I want to leave them with or them to leave me with? I don't know."


That was when I closed the tabs, closed my laptop, closed my eyes, and just listened. Another great fear I've always held, is the painful awareness of the fleetingness of time, and how time passes quicker, the older you get. The next interview which got me, was with an elderly man.


“And you were saying before you can't do some of the things you used to be able to do?"

"Oh yeah. It breaks my heart, too. To put your foot up in a stirrup and just step up on a horse, I can't do that anymore. You know, I hate to give up my independence that way. But as far as wishing I could do it again, sure I do. I wish I didn't get old. I wish my body would do what I tell it to.

I understand. It hadn't been, I don't know, the day before yesterday or something, I was in my 20s. And it just... goes by. Whenever you're young, and you're waiting to get 16 to get your driver's license, the years go by kind of like highline posts. Then you get out, and you go to work, and all that stuff. And then pretty soon, you get up to 65 years old. And things change in your life so much so drastically, of putting your feet where you want them and your body where it needs to be... It's gone.

And time goes by like cross ties on a railroad track-- just tch-tch-tch-tch. These days are gone. So while you've got it, use it. Your mind, your strength, your agility, use it. If I can call back forty years-- I wouldn't want to go through all my youth again. But I miss what I could do. I miss it. 

If I got 10 more years in me, that'll be plenty. I'll be 83. I don't want to live past 83. I don't want to be where somebody has to take care of me or lead me around or slobbering all my belly in a restaurant somewhere from a stroke.

I've had a good life. I know from 23, 73 looks pretty old. That's 50 years difference, son. 50 years makes a lot of difference. But I relate. I can remember 23.”

But as the podcast went on, and Andrew progressed on his journey, it was not the unexpected extraordinaries whom he interviewed which really began to claw at something in my heart, but it was the journey he was undertaking himself, and what it came to symbolise for him. I began to get teary as I listened on. 


“There's all kinds of walking. There's float walking when it's the easiest thing in the world. And there's urge walking when you're just desperate to stop. There's high walking when you're high and hurt walking when you're hurt. I like weep walking the best, when all you can do is cry.

I expected to feel some sort of euphoria in the last two weeks of the walk. But it wasn't that at all. I was terrified, especially when I realized there was no escaping the end.
I've always known I'm going to die some day, like we all do. But I think it was only in the last two weeks of the walk that I really believed it.

All the things people had been telling me about aging and grief and loss, someday my turn would actually come. And my turn with death would come, too. I had just turned 24. And death was as far away as the Pacific Ocean was from my home when I first started walking.

But someday I would get there, just like I was going to get to the ocean. I stopped recording audio and taking notes. I walked each day in a weepy daze of disbelief. This is it, I kept saying. This is it.

There were cars passing me on the road. And I had this thought, if I were in one of those cars right now looking into this dark forest, I'd probably think it was a scary place. But I'm in the forest. And I know it's not a scary place. In that moment, I didn't feel so afraid of the end.

On the afternoon of September 8, 2012, I saw the Pacific Ocean. An hour more of walking, and I was there on the beach. Mom was waiting for me and Dad was, too. And so many friends, all of them surrounding me in a big circle.

Even some people I'd met along the way made it. The men from Navajo country drove from the reservation. And they led me to the water, drumming and singing a chant. 

And I was weep walking."

When It was over, I felt a tangible shadow over me, heavy with the weight and profoundness of the story. I think I have known pain, I think I have known enlightenment, I think I have discovered some profound truth about how to truly live, but really I know nothing.

My soul is sheltered.

It's like that feeling where you know what a word is, but you just can't think of it at the exact moment you need it, or like looking at a giant bank vault when you got to cash a cheque. You can't see it, and you can't get at it, but you know it's there. That's how I feel about this silver and grey existentialism within me.

All I have discovered so far since the creation of this blog is just the run-offs, little breadcrumbs leading to what I feel is some great profound, earth-shattering realisation that I feel I have, subconciously, in my mind.

I want that pain. I want that exhaustion. I want to push my body to it's complete limits physically and emotionally, until I can finally push through those mental barriers and truly discover what this great Philosophical truth is, which I know is buried deep within my mind. 

And how? Well, I haven't quite figured that one out yet. But I feel like, forgive the pun, I'm on the right track.

I shall continue to talk to strangers, watch people and create stories for them based on snippets of their conversations I overhear, indulge in strangerism and go on adventures alone, and I will continue to write, and listen and be inspired. 

And I shall always remain firm in the belief that people, including myself, are amazing

Scarlet-Ophelia.