“Aren’t you scared?”
I looked left, right, and sideways. Was there a bear nearby? I was confused as to why I should be scared. The park ranger at Crater Lake was an elderly lady, showing maternal concern as she took my campsite registration.
“Aren’t you scared of camping alone?”
Oh, that. I smiled and shook my head. I had been camping alone since I was old enough to drive, and it no longer struck me as scary.
Certainly, there was a time when I was afraid of camping alone. I was 18 years old and had been reading about ghost towns in the Mojave Desert. I wanted to go camping in a ghost town. I was old enough to know that there would not actually be any ghosts in the ghost town, but I was scared of the isolation and loneliness, of possibly going mad in the silence and the dark.
But the thought of plundering ghost towns was too cool to resist. I armed myself with a pack of cigarettes, a bag of weed, a plastic handle of rum, and my 12-year-old brother. I borrowed my father’s Toyota Previa, and set out for a long weekend of camping. I thought that, with enough mind-altering substances, camping in a Mojave ghost down would no longer be scary.
In his memoir, Haruki Murakami talks about the mantra he uses when running marathons: Pain is Inevitable. Suffering is Optional. It helps him push through those last few miles where everything aches and he’s tempted to call it quits. This mantra applies to everything in life. People fear pain, hurt, disappointment, loss –- but all are inevitable. Fear is simply a lack of confidence in your ability to withstand unpleasant situations. Circumstances are more tolerable if you choose not to suffer from them. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
My brother and I never actually found the ghost towns because I was as bad with directions then as I am now. We drove around in the desert, got lost, drank, smoked, camped, and eventually made our way home before the weekend was over. Nothing scary happened.
Now, when I go camping alone, I still feel a profound loneliness as much as ever. The loneliness is inevitable. But I don’t suffer from the loneliness; I welcome it. It reminds me to be grateful for the people in my life.
Suffering is optional.