• Christopher La Fleur

Mapless in a Wilderness of Choice

I am a feral sort of person.

I look at rock formations and mountains the same way some people salivate over foreign cars. It's a specific kind of compulsion I can only compare with my physical need to create. If I spend too many days in the city, I develop a fever. Like any head cold it's a small annoyance. In time, it becomes a full-body ailment. I must breathe mountain air. I have to, at any cost, know what it feels like to touch the sky, regardless of how many summits I've been on. I have to stand on the edge of a new precipice and stare one thousand feet down to the valley below.

This phenomenon has a name, first coined by the French. They call it l'appel du vide--the call of the void. In scientific literature it is called, much less romantically, the high place phenomenon.

It's the inexplicable urge to jump when you ought to cling to a guard rail. It's skydiving when everyone else is content with Economy. It's smoking on the roof when everyone at the party is content with the balcony. To be clear, this is not a suicidal impulse people have. It's an innate desire to simultaneously move toward and recoil from danger. This fender-bender between the conscious and subconscious mind is, for me, an affirmation that our lives are perilously, wonderfully balanced on the sharp of a knife. I can only fully appreciate everything I am when I have the clarity to imagine a world without.

Some appreciate the abundance in their lives by toasting fine wines or traveling to exotic places. I prefer to savor the incredible rush of the void, drinking just enough to safely step back.

I have driven hundreds of miles, sometimes through the night or pre-dawn dark, to capture this feeling. There is nothing quite like it. I hike through unknown wilderness for miles, just to scramble-climb-claw my way to a new summit. Only when it is impossible to proceed any further, only when I have reached the crossroad of land and sky, am I quite sure:

I am one incredibly small person, alone on a mountain. It is one of millions on this blue rock, dancing through a neighborhood of rocks. I am orbiting one of a billion suns, in a galaxy with billions of sisters just like ours, in what may be one universe of many. I have just spent all day, all night, and every ounce of energy I have to feel this small. Everything I have done to get to this place has been entirely about me, and yet not at all about me.

Being so far away from everything I do, everything I think is happening only to me, and everything I think I have, is a great place for reflection. I wonder if I have been honoring myself, or if I have only been serving myself. I wonder if I have been living to my fullest, or if I am only just alive. I wonder about what other people wonder, and how they may feel, or what it must feel like to be them for a day or an hour or a year. Sometimes I laugh at the top. Sometimes I cry. The edge of the void is my own personal crossroad.

Suppose I take one fork in the road--suppose I jump. Suppose I take the risk. Suppose I make a bad decision. Suppose I frown when I should have smiled. It's fine, because I am just one tiny person in a vast, ever-changing cosmos.

Suppose I chart a different course. Suppose I design a life of abundance and success. Suppose I do great things, whatever that even means, for the rest of my life. Everything is still fine, because I am one tiny person hurtling through space and all I did was my best.

'Crossroad' is a meditation on this idea: we are all wandering mapless in a wilderness of choice, and every choice we make is at once massively important yet not at all. It asks you to step to the edge of your "self" and into yourself--your personal void. In doing so, ponder everything that isn't there, or perhaps, what you've spent all your time filling it with.

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