I’ve lived most of my life with a longing gaze toward a distant horizon, believing in a mystical something-better out there.
The constant challenge for most folks who grow up around here has always been geography. In West Virginia, the same hills that protect you from the outside world also tend to cripple your chances of seeing beyond the ridge in front of you. Most West Virginians remain semi-affectionately imprisoned in their own little hollers from cradle to grave (save the occasional big trip to Myrtle Beach, laughingly referred to as the Redneck Riviera). A few—our best and brightest—get out as soon as they can, and why wouldn’t they? If your ticket out of West Virginia gets punched, why would you spend one more second in a state that is ranked among the poorest, most depressed, least educated, most drug-addicted, least healthy, and most miserable places in the entire nation?
Little wonder Laura and I developed a love affair with travel. While many of our friends and family spend their hard-earned bucks on bigger televisions and the latest iPhone, we opt to invest in journeys of escape. Though I’m not exactly a globe-trotter, I can say that I’ve had my share of adventures: I’ve body-surfed the icy Pacific coast waters; pulled bluefish by the dozen from the Atlantic shore; I’ve fished Canadian waters and hauled walleye as big as my leg out of the Great Lakes; I’ve hiked the mountains of Colorado, walked the ethereal streets of both New York City and New Orleans at 2 a.m., dove along coral reefs off the South American coast, and knocked back shots of tequila with the Mexican locals after swimming an underground river that goes so deep into the earth you fear you may never see the sun again.
I’m not really what you would call an adrenaline-junkie, but I have always been something of a get-me-the-hell-away-from-home-junkie. That’s probably why a part of me silently scoffed when Laura suggested a close-to-home West Virginia vacation. My inner-monologue was something along the lines of—‘We live in the poorest, fattest, dumbest, most-miserable state in the union. Why in God’s name would you want to vacation in that very same poorest, fattest, dumbest, most-miserable state in the union?!’
Before I could think up a delicate but persuasive protest, Laura was already off making plans and inviting her mother and sister to join us.
“Goooooood!” I said with what I hoped was a darn convincing grin. I was actually thinking, “Goooooood … glory! Isn’t this going to suck?”
Long-story short: It didn’t.
About a month later, we hitched our small camper to the truck and hauled it through the mountains, over drop-to-your-death ridges, along flowing streams and waterfalls, and finally to Babcock State Park (a very-short three hours from our front door—yes, just three hours). Once camp was set up, headquarters for the week was established. From there, we spent the next several days paddling the whitewater rapids of the New River; hiking the breathtaking mountains and cliffs of the New River Gorge; soaking in the unique hippie-vibe of the Fayetteville area (officially The Coolest Small Town in America, mind you); and zip-lining the longest wires we’ve ever seen, reaching speeds of 65 mph and squealing like schoolgirls as the wheels on our pulleys buzzed along the cable like out-of-control chainsaws. Flying through the treetops, I marveled to myself, “We once went all the way to Belize to zip-line, and that was a pathetic ugly cousin to this!” At night, we’d sit around the campfire and relive the day’s adventures and anxiously discuss how the next day could possibly top the overwhelming awesomeness of the one we were still living.
To be completely honest, I simply can’t describe the dreamlike experiences of the trip I didn’t want to take. Rarely do I struggle for words, but I just can’t come close to explaining the depth and breadth of the beauty and adventure we lived on this vacation. Expressions like life-giving, soul-shifting, and heart-swelling come to mind, but even they fall short. I admit, I would easily rate our West Virginia adventure as one of the best vacations of my entire life; and I’m nearly heartbroken that it’s been waiting there in my own backyard all of these years.
Since that trip, Laura and I have committed ourselves to travelling in-state, exploring more of what’s right here, and I’m so excited I can hardly sit still.
I think most of us go through life with a horrible case of farsightedness, always looking beyond our current setting and remaining foolishly blind to what is right in front of us.
And, no, I’m not really talking about vacations or geography.
I’m talking about your life and all of the people, places, and things in it that you take for granted on a daily basis.
I’m reminded of Jesus saying that the prophet is never welcome in his own town, and I snicker with lament at the incredible souls I’ve experienced but have taken for granted or completely ignored because of the halfheartedness that comes with familiarity.
Friends, we all have a beautiful epic tale unfolding all around us with a cast of amazing characters. We can choose to either play an intimate part in that story we’re already in or ceaselessly audition for what we hope might be a bigger role in a better production on a stage far away.
My family has lived in the same house for over thirteen years, and our address used to be located in the poorest, dumbest, most depressed state in the union. But for one summer I quit reading all of those national surveys and stepped deeper into my own backyard. My perspective shifted and I now see that we live in the coolest, most adventurous, wildest state in the union, overflowing with heart-stopping beauty and populated with the most sincere, hardworking (and, yes, even harder-playing!), most generous, joyous, and soul-sharing people that I’ve ever encountered any place in the world.
My home and the people in it are wild and wonderful, and I almost overlooked that beautiful truth.
I encourage you to rediscover the places and—more importantly—the people right in front of you. Don’t let proximity steal from you the amazing journey you could be living while you’re wasting precious time peering into a telescope.