Just Visiting

I have always traveled a lot. From the time I was born I have traversed oceans, flown in small rickety planes over the desert, walked through Africa, hitchhiked countless times back and forth across the country I found myself growing up in. I love to see how we humans live our lives. Do you know, at this very minute, there is an old lady walking through a chestnut forest, on her own, looking for mushrooms that she will dry for the winter? And there is another woman, cooking a small pot of corn meal over a fire made from waste crude oil she collected from the stream near her home. She is waiting for her husband to return, annoyed with him for keeping her waiting but full of love for her man. On a train, there is a family from Belgium, staring at the immensely beautiful scene that is spread before them.

The life of a tourist is a hard one. There you are. You have saved for this small chunk of time for a while - perhaps all year. You are in a place where you probably don't speak the language. You don't know the customs. The food is different. You suspect you are getting cheated most of the time. You miss your own bed. The place smells funny. Your spouse has decided that it is NOW that you have to figure out your problems. The children are either sick or adolescents.

But the place is beautiful! You don't have to get up early! You are really in love with your spouse, especially when you get some time alone to walk on the beach in the moonlight. You imagine selling everything and moving here. You would wear comfortable clothes every day. Your wife would wear those sexy sandals and that little dress. Your kids would be all tanned and happy.

It doesn't usually work out that way though.

I live in two places these days. Most of the time I am in a big city, and for three months I am on top of a mountain far away from everyone. I always imagine I will spend those three months really sorting everything out. I will come back all transcendent-looking and calm. But, like the midwives say, meconium happens, and life does tend to keep going. The vacation, the holiday, the three-week all inclusive, ... it's all just life, and why should it be otherwise?

And so it is in life, it is in birth. It is one of the most important days of a mother's or father's life - and of course the most important day of a baby's. But at the same time, life does continue, before, during, and after. So, as in life, it is not the hugely transcendent, mind-blowing experience that it is the important thing. It's not the orgasm, the blinding flash of out-of-body-ness, that is important. It's the quiet, day-to-day, pleasant (yes, even when you're in labor!), humdrum traveling that is important. Let us turn to Cavafy for some wisdom:

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard. (C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Comments

  1. Great point - but let's not underestimate the moments of inspiration and take advantage of them to grow spiritually!

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