Leading the lives of explorers

Sarah Allen

March 5, 2014

Growing up, one of my favorite books was “Me First” by Helen Lester. It was about a little pig who always wanted to be first.

However, he learns that being first isn’t so important, when he says “Me first!” to the request, “Who would care for a sandwich?” only to find out he was volunteering to care for a sand witch (aka, a witch who lives in the sand).

My mom would always read that story with the perfect sing-song voice whenever she came to the line, “Who would care for a sandwich?”

The moral of the story, of course, is that “first” isn’t important.

And as much as I love that story, I would have to respectfully disagree. “First-ness” is as much a part of our lives as eating, drinking, or sleeping.

We simply can’t live without a good deal of “firsts.”

We have our first steps, first words, first solid foods … and that’s just when we’re in diapers!

Long story short, nearly everything we do had to be done for the first time. That’s a fact that is often overlooked and taken for granted.

We weren’t born knowing how to order at a restaurant, or how to drive, or how to do a million other things. From that perspective, so much of our lives is spent stepping outside of our realm of experience.

We have our first days of school, then college. We have first dates, first dances, first jobs. We try new foods and travel to new places.

In a way, we live our lives like explorers, never totally certain how something is going to go until it falls into the usual monotony of our schedule.

Because everything does, eventually, become commonplace.

But until it does, there’s that rush of uncertainty that only the right amount of anxiety and excitement can bring.

I know that’s how I felt on my first day of college.

Just getting ready in the morning was different. I had to go from the communal bathroom and back to my dorm multiple times because I kept forgetting one thing or another.

And then – I honestly can’t remember what logic I had used for this decision – I had come to college without a backpack. So, with classes stacked one on top of the other, I had to carry multiple textbooks across campus.

Those, however, were just the beginning. I didn’t know anyone on campus, and nobody knew me. The reputation I’d built up as a “good student” was obsolete.

Add in new freedom and responsibilities, and college, naturally, took some getting used to.

But within a few weeks there were hardly any surprises at all. I had figured out the most efficient way to get ready in the morning, planned the perfect study schedule, and gotten to know several friends.

So college, once so mysterious, eventually became the stuff of typical week days.

My first job was like that, too.

I worked at Subway the summer before my sophomore year at college. On the first day, I felt a little like I’d been given a pair of ice skates and asked to do an axel jump in the Olympics.

Overwhelming was barely the word. (And, yes, I know it’s only making sandwiches, but it’s harder than it looks, especially when there’s a line out the door and someone needs to prep tomatoes.)

But, eventually, the work came so naturally I felt like I could win gold if “extreme sandwiching” was an Olympic sport.

Those memories are just two examples of how every “first” eventually becomes routine.

But, thankfully, first moments never really stop coming.

Yes – thankfully.

Of course, “firsts” come with stress and anger, with hurt and frustration, with confusion and skepticism. But they also come with excitement, delight, and hope.

As T.S. Eliot once wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

We embark on explorations, no matter how big or how small, every single day.

So, in that case, I hope we never stop being explorers. Tally ho!

Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.