In his fifty-fifth year, writer Rick Bass decided to take a break from writing and go on a pilgrimage. He set out traveling the United States and Europe with the goal of visiting the writers who had helped him along the way to become a writer himself. His plan was to cook a meal for all his heroes, one by one, and say thank you. He desired to communicate that gratitude while they were still living rather than speaking such words, as we often, unfortunately, do, too late, at a graveside or in a funeral home.
Over the course of a few years, Bass realized his goal, not entirely, but he came close enough. Some he visited were peers, but most were the old ones, those who, in one way or another, had believed in him close to thirty years prior. They gambled on his young-man dream, that he could become a bona fide writer some day. From many of them, Bass realized he’d learned far more than the ins and outs of writing. He learned a great deal about the craft of living.
Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it? And it would be, were it not for the fact that Bass was walking through a painful divorce during that season. He’d lost himself, everything from his appetite (which had always been enormous) to his internal compass (which had always been sure). So while he was trying to honor these faces from his past, he was also trying to honor his own, and remember just who he was in this world. His pausing to look back and reconnect with his past helped him regain some brightness of spirit, some fire that he believed could light the way forward in the darkness. And it did.
Stop. Look back at where you’ve come from - the places, the people, the experiences. That may mean taking a literal break from whatever it is you’re doing and traveling around the country, for example. Then again, it might mean taking a more figurative pause, something that can happen as you continue your rhythm of work and relationships. But even then, you’ve got to carve out some head space for such recollection. It’s honoring the past. We all stand on somebody’s shoulders, usually more than one person, those who’ve believed in us, sometimes against the odds. That remembering is a way of saying thank you. Plus the remembering helps you remember yourself, maybe even reminding you of just who you are in this world.
You don’t have to do this. But it seems ungrateful not to. If not foolish. And life’s short to be too foolish.