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  • In my childhood I had been an avid reader. I devoured stories of adventure and exploration. I read the stories of brave men heading into unexplored wilderness, of nature lovers running away from the city, and through those stories I shaped a belief that the world was a big exciting place that held the promise of a life filled with fun and adventure. These stories shaped my life in significant ways. They led me to a higher awareness of the natural world. They led me to take risks and become an adept at moving through undeveloped environments. These interests significantly influenced the friends I made and therefore the development of my personality as a social creature.

    As I reached my teenage years, reading was no longer a priority for me. I was more interested in doing than reading. Activities in the outdoors took up all my reading time. Above all skiing was my real passion and I wanted to reach the elite level – no less. I got a job as a lift operator at Mount Ruapehu but in my second season I realized there was something seriously wrong with my eyes. I tried to ignore it, but when I started skiing into obvious obstacles, I knew it was time to see a doctor.

    The diagnosis was not good. I had Glaucoma and needed an eye operation and lifetime medication to save me from blindness – in fact I had already permanently lost some sight in one eye. I knew then that I would never reach the elite level of skiing. Suddenly it was as though I had just discovered my beliefs and assumptions about the world were all wrong. I no longer had the comfort of my goals, or delusions of invincibility. I now knew I was very much a fragile human being reliant on society and its hospitals for my sight. I was truly lost so I turned back to my childhood world of books in the hope they might point the way.

    In the six-weeks of my convalescence I immersed myself in the works of learned authors. I learned a new way of viewing the world and began to see life as one great big adventure – not just a series of smaller ones. I started to see life as an experiment that people conduct on themselves. I perceived the world as bigger and more complex than I had ever imagined. I learned about such concepts as existentialism, self-reliance, social responsibility, the scientific method, and about writing as a way of ordering thoughts and developing ideas.

    In my childhood I read about, and modeled myself on, the great adventurers. I admired the way these brave men and women journeyed into the unknown for the benefit of all mankind. Now I was discovering adventurers of a different realm – the realm of knowledge. Authors like Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Jack London and many others. Though not facing the dangers of the wilderness, there were still many dangers for them – wrong turns, ridicule and the possibility of becoming hopelessly lost, but still they carried on for the greater good. This was a different wilderness but still an important and exciting one.

    As I continued down this path I began to notice my priorities changing. I thought less and less about skiing and climbing and more and more about knowledge, philosophy and the books and people I had encountered with ideas to share and listen to. I began to keep a journal to keep track of my thoughts and development of ideas. I kept notes of the books I read and notes on a thousand different thoughts, feelings, and experiences from my everyday life.

    William Butler Yeats once compared education to a fire that needed to be lit rather than a bucket to be filled – well the fire in me was lit. The process that began in the aftermath of my eye operation built into a powerful life-altering force that ripped apart my life and caused me to rebuild it in a fundamentally different way. This process, like my eye condition, will always persist as an undeniable fact of my life. My medical crisis carried me into the darkest of nights but it also turned on a light that illuminated something of which I was ignorant, something that gave me strength and purpose, and ultimately helped me to heal and begin my life anew. With the help of many authors – famous and obscure – I discovered the search for knowledge and the comfort the words of wise men can bring. Now I travel forward on the shoulders of giants.
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