We are Still Learning

I keep a list of all the states I've visited. Washington, Utah, Vermont - 37 in total. The ones I haven't been to: The 49th and 50th states and a big, U-shaped hunk of the heartland.

I define 'visited' in one of three ways:

1. Spent the night (Miami, Florida); 2. Spent the day (Birmingham, Alabama); OR 3. Did a you-can-only-do-it-here kind of thing (Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa).

Layovers and drove-through-but-didn't-stop's don't count. It's not a box-checking exercise. I have to walk the side streets. Try the famous pickles. Get some mud on the rental car.

I liked my list. Told people about it. I thought it made me more fascinating. Conferred 'Explorer' status on me.

But here's what it took me 37 states to realize: I've been keeping the wrong list.

Exploration isn't just about geography. Or pickles or side streets. Exploration is about allowing ourselves to be changed by a place.

Which, I think, comes down to courage.

The courage to drop defenses and expectations. And leave home knowing - as Michelangelo knew - "I am still learning."

Exploration doesn't take planes, trains, and automobiles. It takes us walking out the door with enough courage - plus vulnerability and humility mixed in - to let the world move, rattle, upend us. And to do this understanding that we will return home bigger people for it.

I keep a different list now. A list of what I've learned about living in the world. How I've been changed, am changing, or resisted change. What I'm finding.

And if I've found one thing, it's this: No matter where we are, we are still learning.

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Growing WiserCaitie Whelan