“What will you do when you get back?” She/he/they ask. It’s one of the regular questions and my stock answer is, “I don’t know, I don’t know who I will be when I get back.” I’m not trying to be flippant or clever with this response, I really do believe that this journey will change me. Of course, I have no idea whether that change will be so small as to be almost imperceptible or whether it will be a paradigm shift so dramatic that I am no longer the person I am now. Probably somewhere in between.
“Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” (or woman), a saying attributed to St. Francis Xavier makes a lot of sense but it is by no means the end of the story. It may well be true that much of our behaviour and attitude is fixed in those first years but we go on changing right up to the day we die. Everything we experience up to that point and beyond it helps to shape the person we are. That is why experiences matter so much. The greater the impact of the experience and the more likely it is to bring about change. We have all heard stories about people who have cheated death, found God or won the lottery and the common theme, more often than not, is about how their life has changed as a result of the experience. That is why I believe that the next few months will result in change. Travelling by bicycle for six months and living with very basic possessions will be an experience of significant impact. It surely will lead to change. I just don’t have any idea what form that change will take.
This isn’t some fanciful theory that I have dreamt up by the way. It’s based on real life examples of people I know, or know of, that have been there and earned the right to wear the T shirt. Jamie McDonald has just returned from running five thousand miles across Canada raising tens of thousands of pounds for children’s charities in the process. He camped and slept rough but also received outstanding kindness and hospitality along the way. He was mugged at one point and was in very real danger at times, especially when running through the Rockies in the depths of winter. He has been back home in Gloucester for a couple of weeks now and this morning he tweeted that he was finding it really difficult to adjust to ‘normal life’. Has he changed? Of course he has. Similarly we have friends that spent fourteen months cycle touring in South and North America, Australia and New Zealand last year. They had some really fantastic experiences and their fair share of tribulation too. We met up with them a little while after they got back and they told us how difficult it was to slot back into a conventional lifestyle. They are both bright, intelligent people who could easily settle into well paid career jobs in the city and start planning their distant retirement but there is no sign of that happening. On the contrary, they seem, to me, to be less conventional, less easy to pigeonhole since they got back and that really excites me for them. Long may they remain restless.
What Gill and I are about to do isn’t as grand or spectacular as Jamie or our friend’s adventures but that doesn’t matter. Doing anything at all that takes you out of your comfort zone will challenge, and ultimately, change you. Almost inevitably for the good.
If you want to know what today’s Tony would do when he gets back I can probably tell you. He would probably get a job in IT. Probably rent a new house in Freckleton and probably go on dreaming of adventures. As to what the Tony who comes back next October will do, I have no idea.