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  • Maria Smith

Adventure Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

I’m a firm believer that adventure is a mindset. I often think back to my childhood and the hours spent navigating tumultuous oceans from our ship (our treehouse) and the rainy days spent indoors, climbing atop furniture, to my mother’s dismay, because God forbid, we touch the floor, I mean, lava. My siblings and I chose different names for each other, created a tragic backstory (we were orphaned because of a flood), and devised endless obstacles that we had to overcome. As an adult, I remember those days with fondness and sometimes grieve the lost innocence and wonder that I felt, then, for the simplest of things.

Children understand adventure much better than adults. Perhaps it’s because they conjure up adventure in the mundane, while we adults look to escape, usually at significant physical distance or thrill seek to add some adventure to our task-focused lives? However, the good news is that mindsets are malleable. It may take time and practice but we can recapture aspects of our imagination and choose to see adventure in the ordinary.

During my undergraduate work, I studied abroad in Rome, Italy. It was one of the most life-changing experiences that I’ve had in my adult life, not a surprising fact considering I uprooted my life and moved to a country that had all the components of a great story: inspiring setting, new characters, and unique challenges, such as the language barrier and learning how to use public transit. I went because I wanted an adventure, something out of the ordinary, and the challenge of living abroad.

When in Rome, one of the most profound lessons came from our Professor, who also uprooted from Pennsylvania to join us.

“What is beauty?” she asked.

Some of us naturally offered up the lazy definition, “something that possesses beauty.”

“What makes one thing beautiful to one person but not another?” she challenged us again.

I remember pondering this in our buttercream classroom, one of the more modern rooms in the convent where we stayed, a warm breeze tousled the thin, white curtains that hung on the long, arched windows. It was a Humanities class and we momentarily settled into a philosophized discussion about the definition of beauty, but everyone had different ideas and eventually we came up short of an answer. She asked us to take the remainder of class to go somewhere on the convent grounds, alone, and journal on the topic.

I ended up in the garden where I spent a few minutes observing an unidentifiable flower. It had pinwheel of pink flowers, almost cherry blossom like, splattered across the dark-green foliage on a wide bush. It was the dictionary definition of “beauty.” I moved on from the flower to thinking about Rome, the eternal city, and the remarkable architecture. Rome was an impressive example of humankind’s creativity. Again, most anyone could marvel at Rome and call it beautiful. But as my thoughts wandered, I thought of stories from back home; the man who cared for his cancer sickened wife; the homeless veterans from the soup kitchen near our school; children growing up in dilapidated homes in the trailer parks. These dark, tangible situations were still beautiful because there was hope. Beauty was about perspective.

So what does beauty have to do with adventure? Everything. We often seek beauty and adventure simultaneously because we feel something when we experience them. But what of the outcomes that we don't seek? That moment where you get caught in a downpour in the river and have to blindly steer yourself to the shore could be the reason you never kayak again; or you can laugh about it and go about your day. It’s easy to sense wonder in a new place where the novelty is fresh, but don’t write off adventures at home because your circumstances may prevent you from going somewhere else. We need adventure, which might mean embracing the missing umbrella for a dance in the rain. Adventure, like beauty, is about perspective.

Maybe I’m getting too whimsical, but we need a little imagination. My challenge to you today is to go somewhere quiet, in your house or outside. Take a pen and paper if you need to. Sit in silence. Try to resist thinking about your tasks, who you’d rather be, or where you’d rather go. Simply notice what is there, and little by little, you’ll start to see adventure in the mundane.

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