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Inward Bound MAG
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." – Henry David Thoreau
I never left that shore behind. My cold, wet feet are still dug into the rocky soil. The tufts of grass are still in my grasp. I can still feel everything. I can still see it too. Beyond the shore is that sunset. The sunset appears the same from everywhere but here. Here, there is magic in the way the colors drip into the wings of the trees below. I can see where the waves meet the next shore. Fallen logs from a recent lightning storm crowd the rocky soil. My sunset will always be distinct. Though the other shore is within sight, there is comfort in the thought that civilization is hundreds of miles away. Simple as it seems, that sunset changed my life, and no matter where I wander, my heart will never leave that shore.
To let something change you, you have not only to accept it, but also to learn to accept yourself. Somewhere along the way, I realized I had lost myself. Between high school, friends, loss, and change, I had forgotten who I was. Believe me, this confusion is not a pleasant feeling. My parents could sense I was slipping away, so they enrolled me in a wilderness program called Outward Bound.
My training comprised months of running and weights on bitter cold winter mornings. With violet sacks beneath my eyes and indigo-frosted feet, I rose every dawn. Even with this commitment, I was no closer to finding myself. I ran because I didn't want to fail at camp. I ran to be better than everyone but myself.
Those months came and went. The next time my eyes opened, I was in the airport among strangers. Our eyes were colored with the same confusion. I knew Outward Bound would be a challenge, but the details were unknown. Looking back, I wish I had smiled more that first day. I wish the last snapshot of my old self showed more than empty eyes beneath black smears of mascara.
Outward Bound introduced me to six other teenagers, two hippie counselors, the Boundary Waters, a challenge, and an experience. With no harmful influences to drag me down, I began to feel my heart lighten. No longer did I shut my eyes to escape a moment. I felt everything. I can still feel the rain coursing down my back. I can still feel those strangers' hands in mine as we struggled through knee-deep mud. Those strangers became family. The challenges we faced became opportunities. My life became an opportunity. I could feel myself changing and wanting to be better for no one but me.
The physical stress was immense. After two weeks traveling 82 miles by canoe and foot, I looked like the girl from “The Grudge.” Mosquitos left trails of scabs up and down my sunburned legs. I had rock-solid shoulder muscles from carrying 60-pound canoes, and permanent bags beneath my sleep-deprived eyes.
God, I wish I had a photo of myself from that moment. The secret to change is that in the end it will always be your choice to accept it. It's all a head game. Yes, I was tired, but all that ever stopped me before was myself. The largest battle you have to fight in life is the one inside.
Once I stopped blocking my own path, I began to see with new eyes. I began to see the tire-sized snapping turtles that swam in the turquoise water beneath my paddle. The eagles seemed to flaunt their beauty by sweeping through the air in front of our canoes.
The few photos I took before my camera drowned barely capture the memories I hold in my mind. I can still see the lakes we crossed coated with lily pads. I can still feel the sand that became encrusted between my toes. Vividly I remember my life jacket. It was old and had quotes scribbled down the breast pockets. “In wilderness is our salvation in the world,” said Thoreau. “I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth,” said Steve McQueen.
That jacket actually led me to read Thoreau after camp was through. Walden is now my favorite book. He too went into the woods to find himself. Many times when I wanted to give up, I repeated those quotes in my head to keep me going. Those words will stay with me forever.
I found myself. I reinvented myself. Fears I once held onto began to diminish. I was no longer afraid of being alone, because I was no longer afraid of myself. The solo trip I had been dreading came and went. One night alone on an abandoned, rocky shore was no challenge at all.
That was the night I realized I had changed. In one moment I looked back over those two weeks, and the road I had taken to get here, and I realized that I knew exactly who I was. That shoreline really was the final step in changing my life. Looking up into those sun-soaked trees and the infinite wilderness beyond, I finally found peace. I was at peace with myself. My feet have moved beyond that shore, but my heart will remain there forever.
I returned home with new eyes, an open mind, and a sense of self. I'll never forget the sunset on that shoreline. That moment marked a turning point in my life. The snapshot taken as I left my new family in the airport shows a smile of pure joy. I can still feel my cheeks aching from smiling. I let myself change. I learned to accept myself and look at challenges as opportunities. For the rest of my life I am determined to “live deliberately” and live infinitely.