In Praise of the Spiritual Quest

Wild. Even the title is captivating. The story even more so. Cheryl Strayed’s story of becoming unhinged after the death of her mother is a real page-turner. The author’s path to being “found” involves a complete separation from her previous life as she hikes 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thoroughly untested, the experience molds and refines her, as if through fire. Pure gold emerges.

Her mom had been the only tether holding her to a shaky reality. After an untimely death from an aggressive cancer quickly cut this one cord, she became unglued. Heroin and promiscuity were ineffective means of dealing with the pain. Ultimately she found her true self through the epic challenge of traversing one of the great spines of the continent. The book has the power to bring the reader to tears and uncontrollable laughter, while drawing you into her world.

The spiritual quest. Another in this family of books—a true classic— is A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins. Reading his story tipped the scale at a time when I was weighing whether or not to return to college after my freshman year. I was still a lost little boy. His story was similar to mine in that he was disenchanted with society, and more importantly, with himself. He set off on a journey across America in an effort to find himself. Through the journey he succeeds in pulling off a trifecta in wondrous self-discovery, finding God, and meeting his wife. The reading of the story was a fantastic adventure. A world of possibilities unfurled that had nothing to do with the expectations of parents or society.

One night of reading the book, above Partridge Falls on Labor Day weekend just prior to the fall term, was particularly memorable. Camping 20 feet from the Canadian border on the Pigeon River in complete solitude, I sprawled out in my sleeping bag under the stars with a roaring campfire to provide warmth and light for reading. Lying there at the top of the United States, the curvature of the earth fit snugly into the small of my back for support. A quiet confidence swelled that enabled me to buck the system. The story, written in the late 1970s, spawned countless quests in the years that followed.

My own book, now completed and awaiting emergence from a quagmire of publishing questions, fits into this family of memoirs that has preceded it. I need your help with a title, in fact. Prior to getting to the poll, here’s a short background to aid any responses.

I have split the book into two sections. Lost and Found.

The first part goes into my crazy childhood. Previously I have released a small snippet here ( that details the hoarding and the bleak existence spawned from it. I prefer to focus on the positives, but allowed myself to really get into the meat of my lostness over approximately one-third of the book. I keep no secrets—a great liberation that makes this entire project worthwhile even if it doesn’t produce much income—as I describe the sights, smells, crushing loneliness, and a complete lack of purpose that nearly did me in. Sprinkled in with the mess are humorous accounts that add levity, such as the time I cut off my eyebrows to impress a girl. This failed miserably, of course.
I was adept at covering up not only the deep shame of living in a filthy house of squalor, but also of a horrific bedwetting problem that persisted into my 19th year. Once I defecated in the car of my mom’s angry boyfriend after being left in the vehicle in full sun for a couple hours on a 100-degree day. Conflict. There is really intense conflict in this story. I sought the companionship of over one hundred animals that I hoarded within the confines of my bedroom as a needed diversion. And yet, there is hope. One friendship, and the generous family that came free of charge along with it, may have saved me.

The remainder of the story revels in my finally being “Found.” This is where the spiritual quest comes in. It was a gestation period—exactly nine months—that proved to be more valuable than any degree. I was reborn by leaving the university and the life of a student. So lost and lonely, my entire life had been lived in an effort to be liked and noticed by others. By leaving I wound up being rebuilt. This is a tale of epic adventure, self-discovery, and faith.

One month of wandering by backpack and train includes a Bilbo-Baggins-esque crossing of Olympic National Park during the cold rainy season. I encountered wildlife face-to-face and survived a monsoon that ravaged an ancient forest. The kindness of strangers at key junctures kept me from the brink of madness. Ultimately I learned to hear the sweet symphony of silence during a magical winter spent in a wilderness cabin near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. I celebrated the coldest day of the year, which boasted a high of -36°F, by snowshoeing to the top of Eagle Mountain. Though the journey was taken in solitude, I never felt alone. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my own skin. I was a changed man.

So, the title. What should it be? Here’s where I need your advice.

Thanks for voting. Your advice is important to the outcome of this work in progress. Speaking of that, my wife is working on a painting that could potentially make the cover. It is unfinished and on the easel to the right here…



Once again, this painting is unfinished. Yet, it begins to convey the character of the book I think.  IMG_4358

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