I am in a rocking chair, watching the sunrise while nestled in the quiet of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I look out, captivated by the hazy horizon of rolling hills. Along the walking paths that surround, I see daisies, black-eyed Susans, and all the many wildflowers scattered about, here in Little Switzerland, North Carolina.
I was supposed to come here three years ago in July 2020 before the world shut down, before everything twinkled out under the wind of Covid-19. I’d won a diversity scholarship and had been awarded a fully funded, week-long stay for a writing retreat that was to be held here. This writing retreat has been running for about thirty years, I’m told, and it is rich with a timeline of its own traditions and tales.
They call it the magic mountain, up here. When I first stepped foot on campus, I dragged my suitcase and shouldered a book bag heavier than what my back could handle. I arrived nervous, with all my clothes and all my questions. All my writing notebooks and all my notions of how I thought the week might play out.
Within minutes of arriving, I wondered if I would be the youngest one there. I wondered what on earth gave me the courage to come to this place and confess all my tantalizing thoughts about writing fiction. Who am I to be here? I asked myself. Who am I to dare dream this place might speak into the path I sense I should be on?
I’ve been here for almost a week, days folding in and out of themselves. Each day, I walk from class to class and sit around long tables, and workshop creative pieces alongside my peers. And with each passing day, my questions, insecurities, and hesitations fade. My apprehension grows smaller and smaller as these new relationships drive deeper and deeper. Then, I realize: Learning about new people and places helps me love new people and places.
One evening, after having completed my classes for the day, a woman with silver strands in her hair tells me, “It’s important to stay curious until the end.” Her words hang in my head, suspended like stars dangling in the dark of a night sky. I got to thinking about how this is true of all life — how curiosity is the fuel that feeds our compassion. Curiosity, after all, is what brought me to this retreat.
As I think back through the years, I see a thread of curiosity woven throughout the chapters of my life.
Curiosity is what compels me to walk city sidewalks in search of restaurants with foods foreign to my tastebuds. It’s what’s taken me across the world, traveling to Quito and Puerto Vallarta and Lübeck and Ahrensburg. Curiosity is what whispers to me to lean towards my husband with longing in the many moments when we don’t see eye to eye. It’s the deep-down desire to seek out the good in others, the good in all things, even when the world seems to offer anything but.
“Stay curious until the end,” she says — and those words will forever stain in my soul. I want them to hang in my heart forever. I want to always be a student of life — always learning, always going low to hear the lesson in the lilies, the sermon in the stories, the hope in the heartache held out with human hands. I want to stay a seeker — of beauty and wonder. Of loving my neighbors. Of God and the countless ways He keeps this heavy world suspended among the bright stars.
Far be it from me to think I know it all.
Far be it from me to think I’ve seen it all.
Far be it from me to think I’m the only one who has something to offer.
Far be it from me to think I’ve ever arrived.
I’m beginning to pack up to leave this retreat now, but I sense this thread of truth will continue to be unpacked within me for weeks to come. As I leave this magical mountain, here is what will never leave me:
Curiosity is the fuel that feeds our compassion. And compassion is the gateway to seeing and serving the ones around you. And I want to be that always. I want to be the one who stays curious and compassionate until the very end.