Have you ever heard a song that just smacked you right in the heart? One that speaks so directly to your soul, you’re half convinced it was written specifically for you? That’s how I felt the first time I heard “Into the Wild” by LP. It’s an amazing song with two alternating refrains: “somebody left the gate open” and “into the wild.” It might be the actual rhythm of my heart.
As you probably already know – especially if you know me well – I’m a bit of a wanderer. If there was a great Yearbook-of-Life, my photo would just be the back of my heel rounding that open gate, stepping (or more likely sprinting) off into the unknown.
I used to feel really badly about this, like maybe there was something wrong with me; like perhaps my inability to stay put for more than a year or two was a symptom of some undiagnosed attachment disorder.
Do you ever feel like that? Like there’s some innate part of yourself that just doesn’t fit?
I really tried, over the years, to correct it and learn to be ok staying in one place. Frequent excursions helped – at least for a while. Staying busy helped too. But try as I might to put down roots, the wind always shifted, bringing the scent of some new and undiscovered possibility, and before I knew it, I was off and running, sprinting through that open gate, and into the wild.
What else could I do? I mean, somebody left the gate open…
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come more to terms with this undeniable condition of my existence. At this point, some four decades into my sojourn here on earth, it’s unlikely that this strangely persistent internal pull is going to subside.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that correcting it may not actually be an option. When I’ve really tried to stay in one place, to set down roots, to be stable – it doesn’t go so well. I’m always good for that initial year or two, but eventually I hit an inevitable expiration date. And when I cross that threshold, I sour faster than month-old milk.
The world starts losing its color. I itch. The constant drum of wanderlust accelerates to a deafening bellow, until I find myself staring down the barrel of madness wishing for the slightest spark to burn my self-made prison to the ground.
Yikes. That’s a bit much. Not untrue – but a tad more than is usually admitted in polite company.
But have you ever felt that way?
Moana gets it.
Have you seen that movie? The Disney one about the Polynesian princess who becomes a wayfinder and saves her people (and a ripped demigod named Maui) from certain doom? Lin Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina wrote a song for the movie called “How Far I’ll Go,” which Moana sings as she grapples with her internal pull. It says it all.
In case you don’t have it memorized like I do, here are a few lines:
It’s just a damn Disney song – but it gives me chills every time.
Do you ever feel like that?
And don’t even get me STARTED on “We Know the Way,” another masterpiece by Lin Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina sung from the perspective of Moana’s ancestors which (spoiler alert) were wayfinders too. It’s an explorer’s anthem. (Side note: Lin Manuel Miranda is a magical musical Midas who can turn any subject into emotional gold and I will buy everything he makes forever).
My people were wanderers too. I can trace their migratory paths throughout Europe and from the cold northwest reaches of that continent to the eastern United States, through the South and Mid-West, to the furthest edge of coastal Oregon – back to the north and beyond all over again. My people may or may not have characterized themselves as wanderers, but they rarely stayed put for more than a single generation (ok, that’s still way longer than me, but maybe wanderlust gets more potent over time).
I suppose it gives me solace to see how my people wandered this big wide world (which was much bigger and much wider back when they were navigating it). It makes me feel like I come by my tendencies honestly; like wandering is hardwired into me and not the result of faulty circuitry. And although my ancestors migrated for all kinds of reasons (usually involving the need to feed their families) I bet they were well acquainted with the same wonder and delight I feel every time I cross some new horizon. Because it’s not about slipping through the gate; it’s about the extraordinary marvels you find just beyond, into the wild.