I started reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about a month ago, and I feel like it took me forever to get through it. Part of that is because I am usually reading a few books at the same time, but the other reason is because I felt like I started struggling with this one about halfway through. And as I sat down to write this review, I tried to figure out why.
I think the biggest reason is that the book is really many stories within a story. Donald Miller, the author, was approached to make a movie based on his memoir. And as he works to find stories and events that would translate well to the big screen, and really edit the story of his life, he finds that most of his every day moments aren’t big-screen worthy, so he sets out to live a better story, largely in an effort to make a better movie. So the book is all these little vignettes, as he makes different choices and embarks on new adventures (bike riding from Los Angeles to Washington DC, for example, and hiking in Machu Picchu in an effort to impress a girl). And, as you’re reading, they smack of flashbacks, and when it comes to television programs and movies, I’ve never been a fan of flashbacks. And I think that since that’s how it felt in this book, its choppiness distracted me.
That being said, I liked the underlying theme of the book and that’s what held me in until the end. The continuing thread throughout the book is about encouraging the reader to live a better story, and that “great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.” And isn’t that the truth? Instead of sitting at home glued to his television, or sleeping in morning after morning, Miller began saying yes, surprising even himself sometimes, to things that he had never done before. Trying to get the attention of a girl he met out one night, he casually mentioned that he had always wanted to hike the Inca trail in Machu Picchu, thinking that it would grab her interest. She responded accordingly, and although he had never been to Peru before, nor hiked, there he was. Living a better story.
By rewriting his story and focusing on the necessary parts of (his own) character development, it caused Miller to re-examine his own life and what was missing from it. As a writer, he was writing about stories, but found that he wasn’t living his own, coming back to an empty house without a connection. He was too busy living his daydreams and not living his life.
And sometimes, for all of us, this is just the encouragement we need. To get out there and live life just a little bit more. To say yes to something new and different. To explore uncharted territory. To live a better story. “If life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that. We can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”
During the book, Miller shares the stories of many people he met along the way. One of the stand-outs for me was when he met Bob Goff. What an inspirational man. Miller met him while he was on a week-long kayaking trip in British Columbia. While Goff was a lawyer, he was also the American consul to Uganda, and by all appearances, he basically works to give his money away. Miller and his fellow kayakers visited Goff at a lodge he had built in the middle of nowhere. A lodge that was built to host world leaders and give them an environment where they could talk about world peace. An idea of which all came about from listening to his children and getting their input. When he agreed to be the consul to Uganda, Goff had mentioned he was a little nervous to interact with all the dignitaries, and asked his kids what they would do.
“Invite them for a sleepover!” “Ask them what they hope in!”
Bob and his wife, Maria, talked about it, and then they wrote letters. They sent letters to twelve hundred heads of state and assistants, and then they waited. Slowly the replies started trickling in. And the positive responses. And soon, Bob and his family were flying out to meet world leaders in their own countries, and hosting world leaders, talking about peace, in their lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Can you tell this was my favorite chapter in the book? “That year Bob learned that people are just people, even if they are world leaders. He said most people want what’s best for their friends and their families, and if they are given the opportunity to talk out their differences, they will. And so when the law firm did very well one year, he bought the land around the lodge and built a place for world leaders to come and have a sleepover.”
Talk about the power of just asking. And how important it is to believe in the genuine innocence and opinions of children.
“I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. Every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage.”
Throughout the book, Miller purposely said yes. And if our great take-away from this book is continue to say yes more, and to really think about the story we’re living, then its mission was accomplished and its a worthy read.
“In the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as if God is saying, ‘Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help you.'”