“Stories,” she said, when asked of her favorite task at Barr Camp. It was my sister Ashley speaking as she answered questions for a magazine interview during the summer of 2016. There to shoot a story on me and my crazy life at Barr Camp, the journalist was looking for the goods. Of course, he wanted to know about my running and training, but he also wanted to know about life at Barr Camp. And so he turned to one of the best sources of information he could find, my fellow caretaker and sister, Ashley.
Moments earlier, I had been asked the very same question. My answer? Chopping wood. Though true, it sounded far less profound than Ashley’s response. But hers was spot on, for listening to people’s stories is one of the most important things that we do at Barr Camp. Sure, we cook meals, clean bathrooms, offer up trail advice, and do a ton of other things, but very few of them are as important as the listening.
The stories aren’t hard to miss. They are everywhere. In fact, when my parents came to visit Barr Camp that summer, the stories seemed to be one of my dad’s favorite things. The fact that he liked listening to the stories was no surprise. What was interesting, however, was his fascination with their lack of an ending. “There are so many unfinished stories that leave this place,” he commented. “Like those two guys who went to catch the train. I wonder if they made it,” he said. “Or that family who left for the top. There are just so many stories that you don’t get to hear the end of.”
It was an observation that I hadn’t thought too much about. Nearly every day of the year, stories come marching through our door and then march right back out. We witness them for a short while, chip in our two cents, and then bid them adieu knowing that we may never hear from the people carrying those stories again. It becomes so commonplace that it’s easy to brush them aside, not giving a second thought to how they end up.
My dad, however, brought fresh eyes to a song and dance we had seen many times before. He took great interest in the idea of an unfinished story and found it to be quite fascinating. This led me to think about the importance of such unknown endings. As much as humans love a good cliffhanger at the end of a book or movie, we don’t always have as great an appreciation for it in real life. Sure, every now and then we enjoy being surprised, but far too often we want to be sure of the fruits that our labors will produce. We don’t want to climb the mountain unless we know that there is a good view at the top. We’ll wake up early for a sunrise run, but heaven forbid if it’s overcast. And we’ll invest thousands of dollars in a college education, but there better be a diploma and a high-paying job at the other end.
The same holds true when it comes to running. People train and toil for months on end in search of a successful ending. For some, success is simply to finish within the cutoff time. For others it may be a specific time goal or overall place. And yet as much as we try to achieve such goals, sometimes we still come up short. Does that mean that our efforts were in vain? Of course not! Just like my dad pointed out, the fascination isn’t so much in the ending as it is in the mystery of it all. And not only in the mystery, but in the journey. For as much as we like to focus on the ending, it is the events leading up to it that create the real story.
Case in point, my current attempts to train and prepare for my next race. Sure, I have dreams of how I would like my races to turn out, but in reality I have no way of knowing if that will actually happen. I can train and plan and do all that I can to try and achieve my goals, but at the end of the day I really don’t know what will happen. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try. Because regardless of what happens, there will still be a journey, a journey that will likely be filled with grand adventures and lessons learned. So, come race day, my story will have an ending. What that ending will be I don’t know. But even now I can tell you that the story already has value, for the pursuit of the unknown ending has already taken me on an adventure worth living. So whether you’re training to tackle a new distance, taking on a new position at work, or simply trying to figure out what’s next, remember, it’s not so much the ending that matters as it is the journey.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Can you share a story from your own life where the ‘journey’ was a much more rich experience than arriving at the ‘destination?’
- How often do you find yourself wondering about the stories of people you once encountered in a chance meeting?