■ BY SUE ERWIN
What happens when you are 23 and just earned your college degree, but aren’t sure what to do with your life just yet?
That was the situation Andrew Forsthoefel had to figure out after he graduated from college in Vermont in 2011.
So he packed a backpack and spent the next 11 months trekking 4,000 miles from Philadelphia to San Francisco, wearing a sign that said, “Walking to Listen.”
His mission was simple.
“Everyone has a story to share, a lesson to teach, an offering that might change my live if I take the time to let it all in,” he stated in a blog to promote his book “Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles across the Country, One Story at a Time.”
He recorded interviews with the people he met along the way and co-produced a radio show documentary about the experience.
During his journey he explored both highways and country roads.
“I started seeing everybody as my teacher,” he said. “Each person showed me something new … there was one old man in Alabama who took me into his shed with a wood stove and rocking chairs. It was a cold January night, and we stayed up really late and talked about the subject of loss. He taught me to be more alive.”
Three out of four people he met along the way offered to host him for the night.
“Of course, I was nervous about staying with strangers, but the people I met shattered any preconceptions I had – I saw their potential goodness,” he said.
Forsthoefel is an author, speaker and peace activist from western Massachusetts. He studied environmental science and nonfiction writing. He felt the need to do some soul-searching after graduating, which is what inspired him to go on this journey.
He said what he’d grown up believing that a man should be didn’t seem quite right, and he was left with the question of how to come of age as an open-hearted man.
“I said I would walk until I ran out of money, hit the Pacific Ocean, or just realized it was time to go back home.”
At first he planned to study other cultures around the world, but the financial requirements became a problem.
He tells the tale of his journey through a blog along the way, posting encounters with a variety of people he met, seeking advice on how to live his life.
“I offer my work as a contribution to the collective project of learning how we can be human together, with love, united by our diversity, empowered by sharing the inherent vulnerability of being alive, and freed by opening to truth.”
Friends of Boca Grande Program Director Debbie Frank said island resident Dori Fish was instrumental in getting Forsthoefel to speak at the Community Center.
“When Dori shared Andrew’s thought-provoking story and connected him with us, we thought he would make a fascinating speaker,” Frank said.
Fish said she grew interested in Forsthoefel’s adventure when she began receiving his blogs from the road and reading his amazing stories.
“And then last February, when I heard he had written a book and it was published, I was so excited to get a copy and read his entire story,” Fish said. “Being familiar with the Community Center and their programs, I realized that the book might be a great feature for the great adventures and explorer series, and how wonderful it would be to have him on the island to share his amazing journey.”
Fish said that the author’s mom is a good friend of hers, and she got in touch to see if he might be interested in sharing his walk with our community.
Fish said she’s looking forward to hosting Andrew in Boca Grande and showing him around our amazing island.
Forsthoefel will speak at the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 11. Tickets are $35 for general admission.
For more information, call 964-0827.