June 8, 2017

The enemies of wisdom are many. Judgment. Cacophony. Separation. Violence. With every year I realize how important it is to recognize and realize every opportunity to witness or procure a little wisdom.

Maybe this is why Walking to Listen, by Andrew Forsthoefel resonates so deeply with me. In his early twenties, Andrew walked across the United States and listened to everyone and everything he encountered. He did it to know himself, to know his country and the people in it, and to know existence itself a bit better. Now, in his late twenties, he has written an original, powerful, poetic book sharing what he heard and what he learned with the rest of us. He did not miss the opportunity to experience wisdom in a way only a handful of people do, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to experience it secondhand.

When I was twenty-one, I too traveled around the country. But I did it in a car. And I was selfish, mostly seeking moments I could brag about later as benchmarks for how well-traveled and interesting I was. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I too spent hundreds of hours interviewing people. This was a purer endeavor in a way—I was doing something I truly believed was making people’s lives better—but I was still doing it as a way to earn a living. And in my thirties and forties, I have spent countless hours pondering life’s deep questions. Teaching gives me a natural way to share my observations with others without seeming too pompous or presumptuous. Still, I have a long way to go yet before I can translate everything in my head and in my heart into words that will inspire others the way Andrew’s book has inspired me and many other readers.

I am calling the author by his first name because I’ve met him. He’s a friend of my cousin, and he spoke at our local independent book store a while back while on his book tour. His talk blew me away, as it clearly did the rest of the packed house. Andrew has so much to say, but he doesn’t actually say that much. Even during a “talk,” he listens long and hard. And carefully, and humbly. He validates you. It’s kind of amazing.

His book does the same thing. You don’t want to put it down, but you don’t want it to end. I actually set it aside for two weeks with 70 pages left just so I could pick it up again like it was a new book. I knew pretty much what remained—partly because it’s somewhat obvious (he reaches the coast!) and partly because he spoke about it at his talk—but my heart still beat faster as he neared the end of his walk, and I still cried throughout the last chapter.

I could say more, but, honestly, you don’t really need to hear any more from me. Just get the book and read it. Walking to Listen is one of those chances to witness or possibly procure a little wisdom. Such opportunities are precious.