A million miles without leaving home?

I recently read two books that were, the more I think about them, somewhat related.  Taken separately as well as together, they’ve occupied many of my thoughts over the last few days. First, on the recommendation of Mom and Jennifer Fulwiler, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  While consulting on a screenplay based on his own memoir, Miller realizes that his life as it actually happened does not make a very compelling story (the layers of this sound more Inception-like and complicated than they actually are).  Thus, he begins to explore what it means to live a “good story.”  As he learns about the mechanics of storytelling, he applies it to his life, taking risks and overcoming conflicts.  His accomplishments as described in the book are quite impressive (think “biking across the U.S.” and “starting a non-profit”).

Overall, this book was a great read and very thought-provoking.  After I finished, his indictment of mediocrity stayed with me, and I began to consider things that I could do in my own life.  Ultimately, the problem is this: Miller is the independent writer of a New York Times bestseller.  He sets his own schedule and presumably has a larger travel budget than most of us.  I sat on the couch after finishing the book, spinning the globe around on my Google Earth app, taking in the vast amounts of geography that I’ve never seen and in all likelihood will never see, and getting more depressed by the minute.  I think one of the lessons of the book is that the greater the obstacles, the better the story.  But what about in the meantime?  Say, for example, that the greatest obstacle between me and my goal is time and money.  Well, both of these will come eventually through diligently going to work every day.  How do I live a good story in the meantime?  That’s my chief problem with this book: there wasn’t enough suggestion of how to apply these principles in everyday life.

The next day, still feeling a little down at the prospect of never hiking the Inca Trail, I came across One Thousand Gifts.  With a subtitle like “A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,” I thought, Aha!  This will be the antidote!  Unfortunately, while the message was good, it got lost in the writing.  Miller’s book was extremely accessible while still being eloquent; Voskamp writes in a much more poetic style that borders on stilted.  The way that the modifiers all followed the nouns (“the fingers stiff,” “the grass dew-swept,” etc.) started to grate on me to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on the full sentence anymore.  The style may well suit some people; I’m just not one of them (based on the hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon, I’d say that I’m solidly in the minority).

The point of the book, though, was that in finding cause to be thankful in all situations, everyday life becomes more mundane, and misfortunes become an occasion to see grace.  It’s hard to argue with that, and I’ve already started adopting some of her practices.

Reading these two books in quick succession has left me wondering how to reconcile their ideas.  Miller seems to want me to have an series of events that I can look back on and say, “Yes.  That was worthwhile,”  while Voskamp would place the value on simply being able to recognize the merit of tiny occurrences of beauty, like the spectrum of colors in a bubble of dish soap.  Are these ideas compatible?  Does noticing the shape of each rock eventually lead to scaling the mountain?  This is what I’m pondering today.

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2 thoughts on “A million miles without leaving home?

  1. Kathryn N says:

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only person who has issues reading One Thousand Gift! Nice-ish message, but her writing ruined it for me.

  2. Margaret Mary says:

    I think there are a few things that must be considered before comparing his example to your life. You found the first one – he lives with some pretty unique circumstances that give him great freedom to do as he pleases. If he didn’t use these gifts in a greater way, his bum quotient would be exponentially greater. (Or, as Luke more eloquently put it, “To whom much was given, much will be required.”)

    Next, he summed up about 15 years in 200 pages. Sure it sounds impressive (and it is), but remember that he DIDN’T write about 10,000 pages of tedium, failure, and routine. Try reassessing again when you’re about 10 more years down the road and have more to write into your condensed version.

    Third, one of the things that struck me was how sad it was that he couldn’t maintain a committed relationship. Sure he climbed Machu Picchu, but he lives alone and is sad about it. It seems to me that he can’t master the most important thing of all.

    Having said all that, I agree, it is a challenging story that made me reassess my own story.

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