You might have read or watched The Hobbit, or the Lord of the Rings series, both by Tolkien. One of my favorite things Tolkien underlines in his narratives is the deep sense of adventure that the hobbit protagonists go through: both in the beginning of their adventure — with this fear and thrill of walking in the unknown, away from the safety and happiness of a simple life at home, being considered foolish by all those who stayed behind — and when they are back to their normal lives, with the conscience of an immeasurable gap between them and the other hobbits in the Shire who don’t have the slightest idea of the world outside, of the darkness and glory of their adventures, and who will never understand what Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin went through. Of settling down and living almost as if nothing ever happened, but knowing they are far from being the same hobbits who one day left the Shire.
I get a bit of that feeling from being an immigrant. I am Brazilian, and I have discovered that I am more Brazilian than I ever could imagine, and yet still, my life experience outside of Brazil makes me different in so many ways from all my friends and family who never lived outside, that the idea of returning and belonging like I did before sounds impossible. I am not the same, and I am more than just a Brazilian. It’s hard to imagine myself in circles where sharing my daily experiences will sound so exotic and strange. Same thing with language: once you know more languages, your brain opens to new conceptualizations of meaning, and a whole new culture, in ways that are very hard to relate to anyone who only speaks one language.
But to me, neither language nor international experience are that thrilling. The real thrill I have, of leaving my safe place behind and venturing in the dark, comes from philosophy and theology. Asking questions about meaning and purpose.
While everyone gets up and goes to work, asking “why am I going to work?“. While everyone is rushing to make money, save money, and retire, asking “why should I care about money?“. While everyone believes in this or that dogma, asking “why should I believe that?“. While everyone believes in this or that form of government, asking “why should I want a government like that?“.
“Why is that wrong?” “Why is this right?“
And when you think you got all the answers, asking “why should I think that I am actually right?“.
Asking why. It’s deconstructive — sometimes destructive. It is foolish, and it makes no sense if you wanna live a quiet life with no disturbance, follow the motions, and do the thing that people told you is “the right thing“. It scares everyone in the village you’re from, and you won’t have many companions in your journey. Some will think you’re crazy, others will admire you from afar, and maybe you will only be appreciated after your death. Or maybe you will die on the way and be forgotten forever. You don’t know. If you ever return to your village, you might settle, but you won’t be the same anymore.
It’s a dangerous path that may make you change careers, change lifestyle, change convictions, change your mind. It’s a pilgrimage that marks you forever.
It is exciting, and really scary at the same time… and I love it.