“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the ancient story form of the Hero’s Journey, there is a moment early on where the hero must answer a “Call” and take bold step beyond his/her ordinary world into untrodden territory. This moment is often referred to as “Crossing the Threshold” because it quite literally marks the departure from life as we knew it, into a whole new world of adventure, purpose and possibility. This moment may come with walls of fear and resistance, mystery and apparent risk, but somehow something calls us, beckons us, quietly demands us, to step on through.
In cinema, this is the moment when Frodo Baggins must first leave the safety of the Shire in Lord of the Rings, when Jake Sully first lands in the jungle of Pandora in Avatar, when Thelma and Louise first pull out of the driveway in their Thunderbird… these are all moments of threshold crossing as our heroes step from their ordinary world into the extraordinary world of the story they truly came here to live.
Into the unknown
In life and creative endeavor, we each come to these moments where we are called to step/leap/dive from the path we’ve walked so far, into the unknown arena of a bold new experience. Where the energy of what is rising within us (a new story, new project or new life direction), or the pressure of what is coming at us, means that we can no longer stay where we are. We can plan and prepare and dance around the edge for a certain amount of time, but there comes a moment when we must quite simply begin. The following is a personal story of one of my first and most powerful moments crossing the threshold. One that began on the floor of the Athens airport 23 years ago and has opened into an epic journey that ultimately lead me to the life I now live here, on the opposite side of the world.
“The distance is nothing; it’s only the first step that is difficult.”– Marquise du Deffand
Athens, Greece – August, 1992. It’s 6:30 pm and I’m sitting against the whitewashed stonewall of the airport arrivals section. I’ve been traveling for over 24 hours since saying goodbye to my family and friends in Denver, but in truth my adventure has not yet even begun. I walked through university graduation in June, but because I took my winters off to train and compete in skiing, I have a few extra credits to pick up before they send me my diploma. Having just recovered from my third knee surgery in as many years, I’m feeling primed for a dose of soul-questing. My last college term begins in Germany in just over a month, so I have answered an inner call to spend five weeks of solo adventure in Greece. I’ve never been to Europe and I’ve never traveled alone, but for some reason Greece sent an invitation to me, so here I am answering.
My plan is simple. Step off the plane, find a bus to the ferry port and take the very first boat I find out into the deep, wide blue of the Aegean Sea. Something about that water is calling to me. I don’t know why. I just know it is. In the spirit of adventure I’ve chosen not to crowd my ocean vision with any other details, planning or logistics… trusting that the ‘how’ of this plan will reveal itself as clearly as the water I’m aiming to dive into.
What I somehow failed to anticipate is that I’d be landing, one – at night, after the last of the ferries has left the port, and two – during a citywide transportation strike, with no way of getting to the port anyway! I’m a pretty adaptable and spontaneous sort of fellow, and it’s been said that my optimism sometimes leads me to ignore, or at least postpone my acceptance of the facts, but after four trips to the airport information desk and several failed pay phone calls, it dawns on me that I may not be going to the islands tonight after all… In fact, unless I want to walk 30 kilometers into the city, I may not be going anywhere at all.
I share my story with the program leader of a group of American students I met on the plane hoping she might smile and say, “Come join us for the night and we’ll drop you off at the ferry in the morning!” She does smile, but says instead that she is sure I’ll work it out.
The airport starts to empty and I can feel my mind reaching for options. I’m standing on the threshold of what should be a great life-changing adventure, but here, just one step in, a simple kink in my ‘plan’ has left me paralyzed.
I’ve gone from being a solo traveler on my first bold adventure to a lonely, unprepared tourist, and the rapidly emptying airport magnifies my feeling of being alone. What am I doing here?
The American group gathers in a huddle for instructions, and then starts pouring out the doors to their vans. Disappearing like leaves on the river. I’m just sitting here, a log in the current. Immoveable. I’ll probably still be here when they return to head home. I will have made some friends by then… a few stray cats and security guards. This could be home for a month. I’m sure I could find a comfortable plastic chair to sleep in…
The last few students are sucked out the exit, followed by the group leader. She offers a departing smile and the glass doors close behind her. Scouring my Let’s Go Europe for a message from the Greek gods, I glance up to see the doors re-open and the leader comes back in. In fact she’s walking across the concourse right towards me. I thank Zeus, thinking that she must have found an empty seat and decided to welcome me into the group for the night. Instead, she stops about six feet away and leans in just a little to say,
“You won’t find your answers in here. You’ve got to go out there to get them.”
At the threshold
She offers the curt smile of a satisfied teacher having made her point, and before I can respond, she’s gone. I look down at the stagnant scattering of papers and tourist material I’ve gathered since my arrival. I know she’s right. There’s nothing for me here. Unless I’m in a Die Hard movie, this adventure is not going to happen in the airport. So I grab my bag, chuck the papers and phone scribbles into the bin and step toward the sliding glass doors. As I approach, a thin band of energy starts tightening around my stomach. I keep walking and as I approach the doors, the band gets tighter. The doors close and I pause right there on the edge.
A voice starts in my head. “Where are you going?!” Another step and they opened wide again. I burst through like a breaching whale, filling my lungs with mid-summer Athens smog. Strangely, it tastes great.
I join a short line of folks waiting for private taxis and within moments I’ve struck up a conversation with a young couple in a similar situation to me. We share a cab, which takes us into the cobbled streets of La Plaka, where we find a roof to rent for the night and spend the evening strolling the sites of ancient Greece. Within twelve hours we’re making our way to the islands.
From this moment forward for the rest of my journey (and well beyond), I will practice crossing the threshold from the known to the unknown every chance I get. As I step off trains, boats, planes or horses, I will take a breath, feel in my heart/gut which way to go, and simply start walking. Past hotel hawkers and restaurateurs, past tour groups and map holders, onto whatever road or path is shining brightest. I will walk with a sense of purpose until I find myself walking and talking with someone positively important to my path, and I will trust that I will find myself arriving right where I need to be… at just the perfect time.
Be called to what lies ahead
From where we stand it can be nearly impossible to see what lies ahead, but the truth is there is a world of infinite possibility waiting on the other side of resistance as we choose to trust our inner calling, follow our creative impulses and step on the path. The very best news is that whenever you are ready, NOW is always the perfect time to start.
What is your call to adventure right now? What creative seed or spark of new possibility is waiting to come through you?
In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”