What comes first?

What came first – being a member of The Wander Society or paying closer attention to things? Many of us in order to be part of this funny little club had to read Keri Smith’s book first. Then we had to be curious about the clues in the book. We had to go outside of the book to find out more.

We had to figure out that there was a request to make a stack of stones, take a photo of them, and email them to a special email address mentioned in the book. It is kind of like coming across a treasure hunt without planning to. Just reading the book was the start. But then you have to engage the message in the book to get anywhere.

Being curious, not taking things at face value, and being willing to think outside the box (not even seeing the box!) are all traits that we brought with us into this group. Perhaps the best part of being in this group is that we are now validated for our curiosity. We are in a like-minded society (albeit a virtual one) of other people who wonder and wander. When we see pictures posted by other members of beautiful mountain scenes we want to lace up our hiking boots and go. When we see macro photography from other members of tiny little things that we otherwise would not have noticed, we think “Hey, I wonder what else I am missing and I should pay closer attention to?”

So perhaps they both reinforce each other – being curious and being a Wanderer creates Wanderers who are even more curious. Perhaps it is not simply “Solved by walking”. Perhaps it is all about wandering.

Perhaps instead of being inoculated against the world, Wanderer’s hearts are even more open. Perhaps The Wander Society serves as inspiration to share our hearts – our tender beautiful tiny huge hearts – with other people who share the view that the world is an amazing and tender and wonderful place.

The strangers.

The door was at the end of a long cobblestone alleyway. There were other doorways along this narrow path, and other windows above. Each door, ornately decorated with carvings and inlay, had no peephole. It was seen as a distraction from the aesthetic of the whole, and was in line with the beliefs of the culture.

Most of the citizens lived on the second floor, so when caller rang the tiny bell by the door, they would peer out at who was below. If they were interested in company, they would saunter downstairs and admit the visitor. Strangers were rarely allowed inside, so there were no solicitors in this town. The faithful had to find other ways to lure people to their gatherings.

This town had been rebuilt of stone after the second flood a century ago. Sure, the members of the fledgling town could have read the signs and chosen to relocate, but they had come to love the easy access to water for their entertainment and cuisine. There was nothing like a day by the shore and a grilled halibut to make a life complete. They weren’t willing to give this life up, in spite of the risk that came with a town so close to water. Plus they enjoyed being able to travel on a “road” they didn’t have to build to see other cities and other cultures.

For you see, they were perfectly happy visiting strange exotic people who lived a few leagues away, but weren’t interested in having anyone strange come visit them. Strangers weren’t seen as dangerous, or even odd – just simply not like them. And that kind of person might cause more trouble than it was worth.

The townsfolk were too polite to explain the rules to strangers, and in many cases they might not even fully understand them. Rules and customs had the force of law here, and like laws they sometimes made no sense but people followed them anyway.

It served no purpose to explain their particular rules to strangers – they had no desire to allow them into their lives. Strangers were shunned to the extent that they weren’t even allowed to become members of the community by any means. You could not marry into the town, or seek to transfer citizenship, or even own property if you were a stranger.

But then there were others, people who were not born in the town, people who visited, who were welcome with open doors and open arms. What was the difference? Somehow they knew the rules. They were seen as part of the community simply because of how they acted. You either got it or you didn’t, and if you were in you were in for life without question.

Butterfly

Michelle knew today was the day for the big reveal. Her family and friends had suspected something was up for a while. They could see how hard it was for her to continue to pretend. This would be no surprise to them. But for her workplace, a busy advertising office with many prominent clients, this would come as a shock, if not a joke. It would be difficult for them to accept this new reality because there had been no signs. She had played her role well.

You see, Michelle knew down in her bones that she had been born into the wrong body. Now, it wasn’t a case of gender. She was sure she was a woman, whatever that meant. The roles and rules had shifted over the years in women’s favor and she could make do and make a life within these constraints.

Michelle‘s difference was that she was African, not Caucasian. She had always been drawn to the African culture and stories. She’d dated guys from Kenya and Egypt and Mali, despite concerns from her mother that it wasn’t safe. Her mother had said that others they would encounter when they were out together might cause trouble. Michelle was unfazed – her mother’s life was full of fear and imagined danger, and she was sure that fear would kill her mother before any stranger would harm herself. Michelle was determined to not adopt her viewpoint.

It wasn’t out of spite that she dismissed her mother’s concerns. She knew, deep down, that her mother’s version of reality was not her truth. Soon she started examining everything else in her life to see if it was valid. She didn’t want to live her life – her one, precious, beautiful life, – following someone else’s pattern. So everything she had been told and taught got questioned and challenged. Her parents and friends thought she was going through a rebellious phase but she knew better. The unexamined life was indeed not worth living.

So that Tuesday she called a meeting and told everyone that she had to speak her truth. She was, despite appearances to the contrary, African, and from henceforth she expected all of them to call her by the name Kipepeo, which was Swahili for “butterfly”. She would not answer to anything else. HR was consulted. The legal team was notified. She had no plans of going before a judge and legally changing her name. She cited men who were named Robert who insisted on being called Bob. She cited Native Americans who had gone on a vision quest and come back with a new name. And then she stopped explaining.

Kipepeo insisted that her employer print out new business cards for her, the same as if she had gotten married and changed her name. Except she hadn’t. She insisted that the nameplate on her office door be changed< as well as what was printed on her checks. She accused anyone who did not call her by her new name of creating a hostile work environment. She called it her true name.

At that, her employer started to look for ways to get her to leave. If anybody was creating a hostile work environment, it was her. They had gone along with her claim that she was actually African. It wasn’t something that affected the workplace. But his name thing was going too far.