Steven Foster is a co-founder of the School of Lost Borders. The passage below is a 1973 journal entry from his first time experimenting with taking young people out for rites of passage.


So we endured, and we listened to the silence. At night we lay on the stony ground and watched the
constellations slowly wheel across the winter sky. We fathomed loneliness. Our bellies ached, our fingers and toes were cold, we walked to the four corners of the earth and we prayed. And the sound of our own voice in our ears was strange and powerful.

What did we learn? Each in his or her own way learned how to endure loneliness, isolation, deprivation,
stress. Each of us learned a secret something, a way to endure, a hint at how we might survive the darkness and the cold and the hunger of life. Can you remember how you passed those hours when you were alone? That is the clue.

What happened those seven days are a microcosm of life. Were you a tiger? Were you a turtle? Were you an eagle, a mouse, a buffalo, a bear? One of the buffalo had to kill a tarantula. Is that the sort of thing a buffalo would do? One of the mice didn’t drink enough water and got sick. Would a mouse do that? Each of us, in our separate ways, faced an experience that was undeniably real. The events of that week did transpire. We watched the sun rise and set. We heaped stones. We found a place to exist. We faced our own monsters. We created our own joys. In the vastness and inscrutability of the desert we felt small. The lights in the distance at night reminded us that others exist also, alone in the darkness, sending out their light. Do you remember the color of the sky at twilight? At sunrise? What we saw and did is woven into the fabric of the womb that keeps our souls.

And the waiting, waiting, for time to pass, until we would be with each other again. Is not this in itself the meaning of life and death?

And when we were together again do you remember what happened? Isn’t it true that because we were alone and starving that we more intensely came to understand the meaning of love? I remember especially the eyes of those around me, eyes clear and high and starkly beautiful, like the atonal desert. People had a wise look to their faces. They had become a little older, a little more aware. The barren, uncaring desert had lured love from our heart.

Only those who are lonely know what love is. I guess that includes just about everybody. And why do we love each other? Because we are lonely and because we can share/exchange/communicate with each other our own sense of loneliness. It was so easy to give that night. Remember how we lay awake that night, all in a heap around the dying fire, talking, looking up at the stars? Friendship is a gift.