Each month until October, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) is giving away an advanced copy of her new book, The Signature of All Things. She poses a question to her readers that relates to the novel, and whichever answer she likes the best is the winner. The giveaway began last month with the first question being, “Who is your favorite heroine of literary history?” The winner was a woman who wrote about Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which prompted a spontaneous book club on Gilbert’s Facebook wall, which was awesome. I highly recommend this classic, by the way!
This month the question is, “What has been your most transcendent moment in nature?” You get 500 characters to give your best answer. Now, 500 words I can do no problem, but characters include every letter, punctuation mark and space. Oy! Trying to convey so much feeling into such a small space is not easy, but this is what I came up with:
One balmy summer night I watched the full moon rise over the Adirondack Mountains. A labyrinth was set up on the dock of Lake George, and as I walked the curved lines that came to the center of itself, I knew then that these feet would carry me around the world. Because that was what my heart most desired. I lay in the lake with the mountains all around encompassing me, the full moon above, and I felt so blissful and clear. Now, twenty countries later, I owe it all to that full-mooned night.
I’m not particularly pumped about this little guy (unless I win, then yay!), but I did the best I could with the small space that I was allowed (I’m sure she has hundreds, if not thousands of entries, so I understand the need to make things short and sweet). It really got me thinking of this particular night though, and if I had the chance to write it properly I would have written something like this:
The summer I turned twenty-one I moved from my home in Michigan to work at Silver Bay, YMCA of the Adirondacks on Lake George in upstate New York. I was a camp counselor to middle schoolers, a Family Programmer and a swimming instructor, and I got paid roughly $4 per hour plus room and board. The summer was beautiful and freeing — the beginning of me leaving home.
One balmy night, the kind that makes wisps of hair stick to your forehead and leaves your skin damp, I headed down to the dock to watch the full moon rise over the mountains. I sat with my feet dangling in the water as the enormous, gray rock-like moon made it’s way over the peaks, and everything around me was quiet except for the sound of the water and bugs coming out at night. With the moon high in the sky I began to walk the labyrinth that had been placed on the dock earlier that night. I watched my feet move, thinking that I really didn’t like my feet — they are too wide, my second and third toes are a bit webbed together, and the entire bottoms are callused. But then I thought, why hate parts of your body? Especially your feet? What good does that do? These feet allow you to go wherever you want, they will walk the earth and travel to places that are in your heart. Where do I want to go? I asked myself. The answer was simple and immediate: everywhere.
I remember first getting the travel bug when my mom and grandpa came back from France and brought me a book on Mont St. Michel. I poured over the pages for days, imagining what life was like in such a faraway place with cobblestone streets. I was lucky enough to travel around the U.S. with my family growing up, and I was the luckiest girl in the world when I was fourteen and got to go to France with my mom, grandfather and a group of WWII veterans.
On the dock that night I felt excited, energized, calm and clear. I wanted to run through the grass until I was exhausted, and at the same time, I wanted to sit completely still and revel in these electric feelings. Instead, I climbed into the water and floated on my back for a while, looking up at the bright moon, feeling the coolness from the water rock me, and marveling at how small I felt against the mountains. I loved that feeling of smallness — it put everything in perspective knowing that the world is so much bigger than my problems and fears.
Since that night I have looked for any opportunity to travel, and I fell in love with it so much that I got my degree in Travel and Tourism. When I tell people what I do, the response I get 98% of the time is: do it while you can. Meaning, do it while you’re young and don’t have children or a real job. Normally I just smile and move on, but I want to grab them by the shoulders and say seriously, “this is with me forever! Sure, someday I want a family, and I would like a house somewhere, but I will continue to travel, with and without children, for as long as I am able. As for my job, I’ll make sure to have one that allows me substantial time off to travel. Because this is what I do.” Maybe it sounds naive, but it has really worked out for me so far, and I owe so much of my ambition to travel to that full-mooned night for giving me the clarity and confidence to do what’s right for me.