*I wrote The Chicken and the Mushroom for a nursing pre-req English class in 2009. Lately I’ve been working on a piece that reminded me of it, so I drug it out and put it here. Every word of it rings true to this day. It is humbling to read at this moment in time because it shows how circular my journey can be. Life is a delicate balance.
As I flipped through the pages of a National Geographic, I came across a photo of this rock formation in the Sahara Desert of Egypt. It is apply named “The Chicken and the Mushroom”. The author of the photograph fawned over the beauty of the region and expressed surprise that this particular formation was not more renowned.
I am pleased to say two of my great loves in life are topography and travel. Packing a suitcase, stressing out in the airport, navigating an uncharted freeway system, that first meal in a new city in the middle of the night, finding the highest point of the area or the worst part of town (my specialty), snapping off hundreds of photographs; it is suffice to say that just about everything intrinsic to travel arouses a part deep within my soul.
I have a subscription to Sunset Magazine. Their photos of small towns and gardens reach out and squeeze my heart. On a bad day they usurp my dreams and embitter my reality. This is what I want to talk about.
As I dabbled in this photographer’s serenity for a moment, wishing I were there in the Sahara examining this bizarre and intoxicating formation, the truth hit me for the umpteenth time:
None of it was real. The emotional awe, the yearning, the wanderlust; it was my fantasy, or more accurately, my own personal lie. The lie was telling me I needed to be there, that I want this, I need this, whatever this is that I’m feeling.
How easy it would be for me to enter some credit card info into my computer, rent a car, hike a little, and stand next to the Chicken and Mushroom. I mean, if I weren’t such a tightwad I could make it happen.
If I didn’t feel like traveling, I could spend my time building a little shack in the corner of my yard, maybe put a sink in it, paint it charcoal, and collect items for inspiration. Then every evening could be spent sipping herbal tea and working on my screenplays. I could put as much time into the project as I wanted.
There is no end to the places I can go or the gardens I can grow.
Sometimes when I’m driving along a lake, I’ll gawk at each waterfront home, each driveway curving into the trees or gate that leads to who knows what. I wonder who lives there — what they do for a living — if they earned the money or it was willed to them. I wonder how there can be so many people who afford a $10,000 monthly mortgage. Would I like my neighbors more? Would that 1500 sq. ft. bedroom make my day brighter? Or that balcony?
Most of the time when I get like this I am reminded how counterproductive it is to lust over what I do not have. I love my home. I love my wife. I love my children. I love the path of my life with all its dips and curves. I love my relationship with Christ. I love being happy. I am happy! If I found a genie in a lamp I would give it away because I wouldn’t change one, single thing about my life.
Well, maybe if I could pitch for the Mariners, I might massage a little switcharoo, but that’s it!
And it would be hard to turn down fifty million dollars, but I’d try.
Perhaps an instant remodel of my house.
Enough of this stupid game.
Why then, if I’m so stinking happy, does jade-green water in a sea of Malaysian Islands pulse adrenaline through my system? Why am I drawn to strange places like the Chicken and the Mushroom? Why do I consider moving to a new town every time I see a smiling face next to a country store in central Oregon?
In most ways, I believe I am no different that the person who wants every new toy Microsoft invents, all the money in the world, or a different lover each night of the week.
I believe it is the natural man within me that desires for things that will never satisfy; that pushes my heart in my throat when I see a cabin on a bluff overlooking Haystack Rock.
Not to say that travel is less than wonderful. By no means am I condemning it! It’s just that some would argue we should chase whatever desires we have; that we feel these ways because this is who we are. While I won’t argue against these points, I will say from my experience, much of “who I am and what I desired” made me restless and insecure, and inevitably steered me into isolation.
I observe friends, family and strangers alike, chase lust, leisure, adventure, security, and the things money can buy. Like animals driven by instinct we indulge our fancies and desires. Some complain more than others, but we have one thing in common: We are not satisfied with the results.
There is no end to the seeking and the stashing.
The Chicken and the Mushroom does not bring lasting joy.
Because I recognize this, I can transfer the analysis. The couple toasting red wine goblets in front of their beautifully remodeled Arizona getaway are not happy because they have a beautiful home to watch the desert sunset. It doesn’t work that way. It is a lie.
How many towns must a wanderer roam before he’s contented to stand? How much Pottery Barn must a living room boast before we can call it a home?
The answer is not blowing in the wind. It is written on the hearts of everyone.
The rapper’s delight; the perfect little whatever; the Napa Valley Vineyard and the enormous family that lives there… it isn’t real. Like the Chicken and the Mushroom, that house is built upon the sand. The feelings of satisfaction and happiness I attach to these ideas are bogus.
The good times come to an end. Smiling people have problems. Wherever you go, there you are.
These nomadic feelings that draw my heart all over the map, really only draw me one place: Away.
Away from my family. Away from my duties. Away from my progress. Away from happiness.
I believe I know this to be true. I have substituted Christ as the answer, am at peace with God’s perfect planning for my life, yet I STILL want for stuff that will not satisfy me. How can I eat from the tree of life yet cast my eyes toward that great and spacious building?
Such is life a test. I have much spiritual growth ahead of me.
When I spend my minutes under the direction of the Holy Spirit everything is right in my world. The adventure is here, and not on some faraway hillside where sunlight sifts through the treetops. Lives are affected all around me. The truth permeates through my being and I feel empowered doing the will of my Father in Heaven. I stop wanting to share and start sharing. I stop wishing I were more involved and am involved. I have nothing to prove to anyone. The longing to run and isolate myself dissipates.
I look at all the amazing pictures of what God and man can create, and realize I have in my hands what they represent…
Happiness. And they can only take it from me if I let them.
*If you would like to read more from Hoff to See the World, check out our Musings from the Road.
Learn our skills for traveling as a family. Get our free e-book PDF and jumpstart your family's journey.