Sometimes perspective only comes in the rear-view mirror, looking back on life. My journey into adulthood started a few months after I turned 20, recording the first Switchfoot album with a couple of friends. We had no real agenda -- just a couple of songs and a shared love for music. We didn't take anything too seriously, (least of all ourselves) so we named the record The Legend of Chin after my best friend Willis Chin, and we put pictures of him all over the CD instead of us. Why? No reason, really. If we had a manger at the time she might have called it a bad career move. But we had no manager and no career. We were young and life was an incredible adventure: a question mark that had no definite answer. No maps, no responsibilities, and no rules -- just a couple of friends with a reckless excitement for the road ahead.
That was 18 years ago (back in the 1900s), and lot of life has happened since then. Marriage, children and other extraordinary celebrations have occurred. My friends and I have made eight more albums together, playing these songs for folks all around the world. What are the chances?! Yes, I am blessed beyond what I could ever imagined back when we were tracking that first record. But along with these joys come the strains of responsibility. The stakes are higher now. The journey has a bit more of an agenda to it. I suppose it has to: There are bigger consequences -- bills to pay, mouths to feed.
And yet, underneath the responsibilities, that reckless kid is still inside of me -- thirsty for adventure, longing for the chaos of the unexplored and the unknown. Yes, my wife and my daughter are my greatest joys. But that doesn't diminish my desire for the mapless journey outside of the comforts of home. The question is this: How do I fulfill my obligations to the ones that depend on me and also feed that part of my soul that needs the open waters? How do I reconcile the chaos that the kid inside of me craves with the responsibilities of maturity?
For me, the ocean brings all of this into focus. Far away from shore, the water offers a perspective that I can't find anywhere else. Surrounded by the beauty and danger of the horizon I realize how small my problems and I really are. My wife calls surfing my baptism. And though saltwater might not be "holy water" per se, it really is a spiritual experience for me. So a few years back when Willis Chin asked me if I was interested in heading to Maui for a week or two -- my wife and I both decided that I could use some perspective. So my friend Willis and I headed out on our surf trip with one very strict rule: no agendas. This meant no rental cars, no hotels, no hassles -- just a surfboard, a pair of trunks, a sleeping bag and a backpack. You might ask yourself, "Why would two guys who can afford to actually have a nice vacation opt to rough it instead?" The truth is, we weren't looking for a vacation, we were looking for an adventure. We were looking for that beautiful chaos -- the extraordinary feeling of anything can happen.
When the plane landed, we changed into our trunks and started off on our adventure. We decided to head off to the north-west corner of the island, hoping to score a few waves at one of my favorite places on the planet: Honolua Bay. No rental car, no hotel room, no shoes -- just a couple of hitchhikers on an island with a pair of trunks and a surfboard.
Now for someone who's never done it before, hitchhiking can be an adventure in itself. You have no control; you surrender your plans, throw your thumb up and just let the day unfold. When we finally found a ride, we were so stoked. We threw our stuff in the back of the truck and hopped in. As we headed away from the airport the driver took a second look at me in the rearview mirror. "You looked exactly like Jon Foreman -- the lead singer for Switchfoot." He said. My buddy Willis looked back at me with wide eyes -- laughing at the odds of finding one of the few people in Hawaii who would recognize me. What are the chances?! I laughed and looked back into the rearview mirror and said, "Yeah. I get that a lot."
We thanked our new-found friend for the ride, hopped out at Honolua Bay just in time to catch a late season swell. It caught most of the locals off-guard, so Willis and I had almost the entire place to ourselves. It was a magical, marathon session -- surfing until our arms couldn't paddle anymore. Every wave was a gift, something that couldn't be planned or replicated. Traveling thousands of miles, each swell was a beautiful gift from the chaos of the sea.
As the sun went down that night, we were the last ones left out in the water, smiling at the success our journey had already provided. Far away from the specific pressures of each of our lives, we had nothing but the simple joys of the adventure. That night, happy and exhausted, we hitchhiked down the road to a dry patch of sand, spread out our sleeping bags and were asleep in seconds.
When the warning sirens went off that night we were too tired to understand or to care, so we slept through the first few of them. In fact, I remember being so exhausted that I was more annoyed than I was alarmed. All of the sudden, a small aircraft flew by our beach with a siren on it -- we knew this must be more than just a test, so we headed off for higher ground to find out more about what was going on. We were shocked by what we learned -- the sirens were indeed more than just a test, they were loudly warning the coastal towns on the west side of the island that a huge tsunami was approaching from Japan. The same chaotic body of water that had given us so much joy only a few hours ago was wreaking havoc on the Japanese coastline. That night, Willis and I tried our best to sleep on the lawn of a local church. We offered up prayers for Japan and felt especially thankful to be alive, staring up at the Hawaii stars above.
When we woke up the next morning, the island of Maui was practically shut down. Everyone was talking about the tragedy that had occurred, watching the videos and photos of the destruction. Hitchhiking was harder than before as a lot of the roads near the coast were closed entirely. We walked into town for breakfast, silent and barefoot. We ate our breakfast watching the pacific, transfixed. The water was rising and falling in strange rhythms, almost boiling in strange motions that I'd never seen before. My mind was racing with the images I'd seen on the restaurant TV: horrible videos and stories of devastation on the other side of the same body of water. Somewhere over that same ocean, the sun was rising on japan. The mourning of a nation.
I looked out at the strange waters and felt almost betrayed by the Pacific. This intimate friend of mine felt like a stranger, an enemy. But the chaos in the water this morning was not a betrayal. No, the Pacific had never made me any promises. In fact, if there's anything that the ocean guarantees, it's entropy and erosion. Change. The destruction of the past as something new is created. More than this, wasn't chaos what we were looking for? Not a tsunami of course, but the risk, the unknown. The adventure. The unbridled thrill of the uncharted future.
And as I watched the pacific reeling I thought about the chaos of life, the adventure of the unknown. In reality, safety is an illusion. Control is an illusion. We are born the same as we die on this planet -- on a journey that we did not choose. On an odyssey that is only partly ours. None of us are immune to tragedy. The rich, the poor. The folks sleeping in the fancy hotels, and the folks sleeping on the beach.
Life is not an entitlement. Breath is not your right -- it's a gift that you take and give back. It's not a promise -- it's an adventure. And someday, we will give these bodies back to the earth. In a greater journey than anything I've ever known, we will all find out what lies ahead- on the other side of the grave.
Let us not be lulled to sleep, thinking that this quick passage from birth to death is anything short of miraculous. Whether you believe in the God of Abraham, Krishna or the god of numbers -- we can all agree on this: Human life on planet earth is a wonderful, improbable mystery. From the tsunami to the wings of a butterfly, this watery planet populated with these fragile bonds of carbon is remarkably unlikely. What are the chances? One in a million? One in a billion? Every step of science leads towards greater levels of complexity and unimaginable odds stacked against any form of human existence. And yet, in spite of of such impossible odds, here we are, hurtling through space together.
The weight of responsibilities that we feel in this life is real. Rent, car payments, health insurance- these are bills and numbers that correspond to real pressures. But our odyssey through this life and death cannot be reduced to the numbers alone. Or if you go by the numbers, at least factor in the remarkable odds that you're alive at all! This strange, unlikely journey from dust to dust is much more than bills and paychecks. Sometimes we need a little perspective to awaken this urgency within us. To be reminded of how short life is and how much we have to be thankful for. Death is the certainty, life is the unexpected gift.
When I paddled back out into the pacific that afternoon, I felt small against the horizon. Like a hitch hiker adrift at sea -- thankful for every ride I got. This life of ours is not a guarantee: it's an unlikely, chaotic adventure that is mostly beyond our control. We might think that we're the ones behind the steering wheel, but in reality we're just hitchhiking, wandering down the road at the mercy of these incredible mysteries. The chaos of life and death is all around us; but against all odds we are here. Alive. Walking down that open road of life together -- thumbs out in anticipation for the ride that awaits.