My experience helped me realize that sometimes experimentation can go wrong. Yes, of course it is good to try new ideas, but it is also important to look at what people have done before you. Sometimes, the well-worn path really is the better option.
I already knew that, of course. I was homeschooled until high school, and I interacted a lot with adults as a child. Because I enjoy being with people, I didn’t mind listening to the stories that elderly folks wanted to tell me, and they were happy to share wisdom with a younger person. I usually internalized their lessons and think about them even today. Despite my independent streak, I value the experience of those who have already gone ahead.
But my “failed” climb helped drive all that home in a very concrete way. Sometimes self-made paths end up being dead-ends. Sometimes the cost of picking up the pieces afterwards just isn’t worth the thrill of “my way.” I felt a little stupid.
But as I continued walking along the more defined path, I resolved that my hikes didn’t always have to end with some sort of amazing find or epiphany. My climb wasn’t a failure: I still learned something, and I still had time to hike a bit more.
I eventually found a plaque. I took a picture and resolved to look it up later.
After nearly two years, I finally did so last week. At first, Dr. Christian August Hoffmann was not easy to find. The only Google result that seemed to match was a Christian August Siegfried Hoffmann who lived about a generation prior to my commemorated friend.
But finally, I found an article in the local newspaper about the man, the journalist’s attempt to track him down, and her eventual contact with his descendants in America. I shortly also found his descendants’ account of the interaction, which verified the journalist’s story. In the descendants’ detailed description of Dr. Hoffmann, I noticed pictures of two buildings connected to him. I actually recognized them! I was astounded. Even though I had had no idea who he was, I had come across his plaque and walked past his granddaughter’s house. Because this realization encompassed my present time learning about all of this history, my past time in Germany, and the first half of the 19th century, I was somewhat overwhelmed. I had partially walked in the footsteps of this stranger and his family who lived two centuries ago. The story that is Me is so very small, a thread in the larger quilt. And as humbling as that realization is, it’s also comforting. It’s nice knowing that others have gone before you, leaving behind their words of wisdom to guide your way.