Today, I was in the botanical gardens in Golden Gate Park. I was with my group of students for the week and a group of residents from a long-term care hospital in the city. We stopped to take a short break and enjoy the view of the area we were in. I saw a path that led through some denser plants, off of the big paved path. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, but I was pretty sure it would be beautiful.
I went to explore the path, with encouragement from my group. “Let us know where it goes!” It was a beautiful little path, which took me around a small pond and put me on a dock that was in perfect view of my friends across the pond. It was a breathtakingly beautiful spot I ended up in, and there was an older man standing on the dock looking out.
I waved at my friends from across the pond, and the man next to me started talking to me. He pointed out some rocks in the shape of a turtle, we talked about the weather, and the next thing I knew he was talking culture which turned to philosophy which turned to politics which turned to just plain insight.
He began by talking about how people today don’t spend enough time outdoors. He has been coming to the botanical gardens once a week for years. We watch too much television today, he said, and spend too much time staring at a screen instead of enjoying the outdoors. This quickly spun into something very philosophical. Our whole life is a reaction, he said. We react to everything around us, all the time, and that is the substance of our lives. The variables are simple: how do we react? What reactions are inspired by the things we surround ourselves with? A life in front of a screen will condition us to give very different reactions than a life spent enjoying God’s creation. Culture encourages different reactions than nature.
This year, I have explored some paths without knowing where they would take me. I had plenty of encouragement from people who wanted to find out where this path would lead. Earlier this year, the path I explored led me to Greece and an experience that changed my life forever. I gained new perspectives, I was inspired to think about things I had never considered before, and I learned an immense amount from people and places very different from me.
This summer, the path led me to the Bay Area. Again, I received encouragement from people who wanted to see where this path would take me. I have discovered the beauty of Oakland, California–wait, what? Anyone who knows much about Oakland probably doesn’t expect to hear those words in the same sentence. But I have truly found the beauty of a city that nearly everyone overlooks because of its reputation. I have found the beauty and pain of San Francisco, the hidden dirt behind the glamour. I have been forced to think about things that I have never considered before. I am learning an immense amount from people and places very different from me.
Both of these paths took me away from people I love and everything I know. But they’re never too far away. Really, they’re just across a small pond. They’re within view–I might not be able to touch them, but I can give them a big smile and a wave. I can call out to them and let them know that everything is fine over here. We can watch each other’s lives unfold from afar, keeping each other updated no matter where we are.
And although these paths have taken me away from people and things, they have taken me to people and things as well. They have brought me to people who have new ideas. They have placed me next to people who have opened my eyes and my mind and made me think about new things. No matter what path I take, I never end up alone.
After I was done talking to this man on the dock, I ran to catch up with my group. They were still there, ready to welcome me back and hear about the man I was talking to. The same thing happened when I got home from Greece. Life went on without me, but my friends and family were still there waiting for me. And I know that, when I get home from the Bay next month, they’ll still be there to welcome me home and hear my stories.
Always take the path that looks interesting, even if you don’t know where it will take you. Chances are, it will take you somewhere beautiful. It will always give you a new experience, maybe one you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. It will probably give you a new perspective. It might even give you a new friend. And don’t worry about leaving anyone or behind–if they’re worth having around, they’ll be waiting for you when your paths cross again.
-Jessie, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Summer 2012 City Host