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#23587 Paul Brown Chapel Talk

Hello Friends!

As this is now my seventh summer at Kiniya, I have had the good fortune of hearing many carefully considered and insightful reflections by different individuals during Chapel Talk.   In the time-honored tradition of recognizing and honoring the thoughts of those who have gone before, I struggled to imagine what I could say that would possibly lend some additional meaning to what are so often “words of wisdom”.

And then in a moment of understanding, it struck me… and so, I offer a confession to you all.

I am an inveterate wanderer.  

To lend some clarity to that statement, my good friend the Oxford Dictionary defines inveterate “as someone of a long-established habit”, and wanderer as “a person who goes about from place to place aimlessly”.  Wandering is certainly a long-established habit for me, but I would respectfully disagree that it is aimless.  Looking back over time, there has often been a great deal of purpose and meaning to my explorations, though it may not have always seemed so to me or others at the time.  At the beginnings of my time as a wanderer, at the age of roughly eighteen months old, I was barely able to walk (though apparently more than capable of doing so). However, my zeal for crawling seemed to be an entirely acceptable alternative at the time.  To prevent me from crawling into potential harm’s way on the lonely country road that we lived along, my parents erected a sturdy, five foot high wire fence around my play area in the front yard.  This attempt to contain my curiosity did not last for very long.  Undaunted and unhappy with my confinement, at one point I simply climbed up one side of the fence and down the other, continuing on my merry way.  My older sister immediately reported the details of this escape to my mother, who quickly captured me before I reached the meadow across the road.  Such a temporary and disappointing setback did little to dampen my spirit of wander lust.  It was undoubtedly the start of a long and continuing life and career spent exploring the very world in front of and all around me.

Years have passed and now decades.  The underlying curiosity that fuels this spirit seems to grow more and more as time moves on.  The act of being outdoors in all seasons, and in any and all types of places has become a very part of the fiber of my being.  I have had the good fortune to travel a great deal, and in the process be in some amazing places and meet countless numbers of wonderful and inspiring people.  I have hiked, biked, climbed, skied, snowshoed, and paddled across several thousand miles of terrain, and visited many hidden corners on the map.  Advancing age has done little to cool my passion for all this, and indeed, over time several people in my life have wondered when I might eventually “grow out of” this phase.  To address their concerns regarding the penchant for rustic exploration, I must report that in my case, it is likely an incurable condition.  I console them by pointing out that I could have worse problems.

So as it happened, in early 2014, my wanderings took me down a dirt road in Colchester, VT during the beginnings of a February snowstorm.  My purpose for this journey was a meeting regarding the possibility of a summer job working as a climbing instructor and outdoor educator at a camp.  As I turned into the gate and drove along the main camp road, I thought to myself “Whoa… how did I ever miss this place?”  I had a great meeting and conversation with a very friendly and interesting woman, the result of which was being asked back for another meeting two weeks later.  At that time, I had the opportunity to meet two other equally friendly and interesting women, and a passionate, gregarious man, who was tall with an awesome mustache and a truly interesting nickname.  As I drove away at the end of this meeting, I knew that my wanderings had brought me to a place where I felt very welcomed and that I wanted deeply to be a part of.

Being a part of the Kiniya community over the past several years, has been a truly amazing learning experience for me.  I have begun to know a little bit of the rich and inspiring history of this place and the many people associated with it over time.  This has happened through all the wonderful stories that countless individuals bring with them to this community, and openly share.  I have also begun to become a bit more acquainted with the many customs that are part of the culture here.  Though I must admit to feeling more than a little intimidated by the songs at meal times (and even hymn sing) during the first summer, they are now increasingly more familiar to me and way more fun.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work alongside and interact with some incredibly creative, competent, and passionate people, who also happen to be a whole lot of fun to be around.  I have constantly been inspired by the level of kindness and care that is extended among members of this community, and the determination and resilience that so many campers, leaders, and staff exhibit when facing new challenges.  And not the least of which is access to the beautiful landscape that we are all surrounded by here on a daily basis, with free reign and all the toys to explore it to my heart’s content.  On more than one occasion I have thought to myself, “Man, I am one lucky guy”.

Now comes the time, in the long and illustrious practice of Chapel Talk, that I make a modest effort to offer some tidbits of insight and “wisdom”.  So here goes… 

If through all of my ramblings and journeys I have learned even one thing, it is that in the fear of the unknown I have come to know much about myself, and my connections to those around me.  It seems entirely clear that so often in the places where we least expect it, is where we will find good fortune, and in the circumstances where we least anticipate it that we will gain wisdom and knowledge.  It is difficult to remember at the times we are faced with hardship and despair that those are the moments where we will often find courage and fortitude.  In the rush to set goals and reach objectives, we discover it is so often in the unplanned journeys that the most interesting destinations are reached and success is realized in a way we could not plan for.  

So I will leave you with a pearl from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose telling of the journeys across Middle Earth speaks of the difficulties, triumphs, and transformations of so many intrepid explorers.  It is through the voice of Gandalf, who provides wisdom and hope in the way that only a wizard can do, when he gently reminds us “Not all those who wander are lost”.

Paul D. Brown

Post script – This was originally presented as a Chapel Talk in July of 2015.  It has been gently modified and re-tooled to reflect the subsequent experiences and continuing journeys of the writer.

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