Wilderness as a concept has always intrigued me. What is it? Different people will characterize it differently, but one thing is certain: wilderness is a point of view – what to one is wild and unknown to another could be home. Every time I go somewhere new, I get this feeling of stepping into the wild, and I love it. Leaving behind what’s familiar to explore uncharted territory is like doing a puzzle with no picture for reference. You’ve got all these different pieces and you don’t know what’s what, but you play around and pretty soon you see the bigger picture emerging.
One of my favorite books of all time is Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. He tells the story of a young boy Max who is sent to his room without supper for dressing as a wolf and acting like a “wild thing.” Indignant, Max embarks on an adventure of the imagination in which he sails off to a distant land full of wild things. He lives in this world as king until a longing for home brings him back to his room where he finds his supper “still hot” and his temper finally cooled. In just ten sentences and eighteen illustrations, Sendak eloquently lays out how the search for the wild things ultimately brings us right back to where we started.
When we journey to the wild side it’s not the place that’s wild but our own emotional response. We create wilderness by projecting our own thoughts of fear, bewilderment, etc. onto an environment we don’t yet understand. Linger long enough in any of your wild places and you’ll soon discover how very ordinary it can seem and even, perhaps, boring at times! That’s when you know you’re adjusting – when you realize that maybe the wilderness comes from within, after all.
Knowing this has helped me cross over from being a traveler to a resident in Benin. It’s what helps me find a place in such a radically different culture and relate to people who often seem to have so little in common with me. Ironically, it also gives me a stronger sense of home. (Sometimes the best way to define one thing is to define first what it isn’t.)
I’ve been working on this blog for about a year now, so it seemed fitting that I finally justify my title: A Different Point of View. No, I didn’t just slap it up there. I actually thought long and hard about it! But rather than spell it out (‘cause where’s the fun in that?), let me offer this little thought: When you go somewhere or try something new, you may experience a rhythm or a way of life that seems a bit wild. But once you feel the beat, go ahead and dance! Who knows – you may just find, as Max did, that in the land of where the wild things are, you are the most wild thing of all!