I Believe in Restlessness
There were times, trudging across Madagascar’s Masoala peninsula, that my eyes would brim over.
My straps cut grooves in my shoulders; my thighs screamed for relief. Socks like sandpaper, they left my soles so raw that each step promised greater agony. Then the tears — of anger, frustration and pain. Without doubt, this was the hardest thing I had ever done. The tears mocked me and my romantic notions about this trip. And when I’d arrive at some tiny village at nightfall, I’d fall into an exhausted, dreamless sleep. Next day, pain again.
And yet, and yet … when it was over, when I look back from years later, I know. Given the chance, I would leap to do it once more: sweating, hurting, weeping — but trudging along just the same. Because I remember, too, what drove me. I remember the exhilaration. I remember, like a precious gift.
I went to Masoala after several years feeling a vague and growing disquiet. Through school and university, I didn’t do too badly, but not too well either: always, just enough to get by. At work, I was recognized for something one year; laid off the next; found another job, boom, just like that. Aimless that way, I muddled through five jobs in eight years. It just came easy.
Maybe too easy. Nothing in my life really pushed me; I wasn’t pushing myself.
And that itself was getting me uneasy. Something inside murmured words I could ignore only so long: you’re comfortable, but where’s the passion? excellence? determination? exhilaration?
I think that’s why I found myself in Masoala: struggling a hundred miles across that remote peninsula on a demanding trek; alone like never before, loved ones at least oceans, and several days to the nearest telephone, away. Physically, emotionally, it was tougher than anything throughout my life. But I craved this: find and surmount a challenge like none before; prove to myself that it didn’t always have to be easy.
I had to exorcise, once and for all, that unease.
Through the gut-wrenching loneliness, I answered a lot of questions. Maybe I even proved myself, to myself. But here’s the funny thing: I never did rid myself of the unease. Through the tears, I learned that it cannot, but should not, be quelled or exorcised. I understood how it would fling me into a challenge, drive me till I overcame it. I came to welcome unease, to appreciate how it fuels so much.
The restlessness of the soul, like an old buddy murmuring those words to me. After Masoala, I’m a believer.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.