As the New Year bids us to reassess our lives, I find myself thinking about the Journey of life; but this is not something new for me. You see, as a writer, and in my everyday life, I always think about the journey. What is my destination? Am I making sure to enjoy the journey as I face the challenges along the way? What is it all about? Normal questions that are not special in any way really, we’ve all thought along these lines.
It is in my pondering of the Journey that I have found some appropriate words of wisdom that I think could be passed on. They aren’t life moving or shattering, they are simply words that ring a chord and have stayed with me.
I must be honest. My obsession with the Journey comes from my love of The Odyssey. I was forced to read snippets of the book when I took Latin in High School. (Yes, I took Latin in High School.) Again I read it in various English classes and finally in my Ancient Greek and Rome classes.
The idea I like the best, is that we are all on a Journey and we are headed somewhere, in Odysseus’s case, he was headed home. In the end, isn’t that where we’re all trying to get?
Each destination for each individual might have a different name, a different look, a different glow, but in essence it is home were heading. And we are, all of us, on the sea of life sailing toward a distant shore, and we will each dock our boats on the shore of our destinations at different times.
To be poetic, we are all looking for our Ithaca. I like that idea, that home is Ithaca. This is the first idea I’ve stolen. The idea of Ithaca comes from a poem with the same title by the Greek poet Constantine P Cavafy. In his poem he reminds us:
“Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.”
The journey is a lonely thing, we might have company for awhile here and there, but when it’s all said and done, we are, each of us, fighting Cyclops, sirens, and Poseidon. Each have different names, some are metaphorical, some physical. We all fight, we all revel, we all journey.
I love that each person’s journey is different than the next. Buddhist monks, who seem to sit quietly in one place for so long, are on a journey. The housewife who builds a home for her family is on a Journey, CEO’s are on journeys. A few months ago, Ed Stafford finished part of his journey. Ed became the first person to walk the entire 4,000 mile length of the Amazon River in South America from the source in Southern Peru to the mouth in Brazil. He started the expedition on April 2, 2008 and finished the journey on August 9, 2010 after 859 days of walking.
Ed made the journey to bring awareness to the Amazon, raise money for six different charity organizations and “collect mosquitoes for a Natural History Museum malarial prevention research project.” Check him out if you get a chance: Walking the Amazon.
When I think about the journey, I am always prone to recall the movie White Squall. It’s a movie about a group of high school boys who go to school at sea. As with most coming of age movies, the boys go to sea to find themselves, to figure out what they want out of their lives, the usual. While they are on the ship, they attend classes which are taught by the crew: the cook, the first mate, and the Capitan. Of course, the literature assignment for this setting: Homer’s Odyssey.
As the journey moves along and the book is read, the main character comes to the conclusion “perhaps Homer was right, the journey’s the thing.” I always loved that, wrote that out and put the words on my wall. Perhaps Homer was right, the journey is the thing.
Speaking of poetry. When I was in 7th grade our whole class had to memorize “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. I, as well as most of my class mates I reckon, can still recite the whole thing:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both, but be one traveler long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth….I took the other as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear…I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere, ages and ages hence, two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”
The journey, again, is the most important element. Not the ‘somewhere, ages and ages hence’, but the road to somewhere that counts.
I have been obsessed with The Odyssey, Homer, the Greeks, the journey for quite some time now. I try to remind myself amid the bumps and bruises I am receiving that this is what it’s all about, that it is good to keep a destination in mind, but the point of it all, is to enjoy the ride as you go. All too soon we arrive at our destination.
Is it better to keep yourself pristine for the ride? I think this is what a lot of the religions believe, to keep yourself pure for the ride, to stay steady on the path, to keep your eyes only on God and you will be rewarded.
But what if that isn’t so much the point, what if God and everlasting heavenly reward is the prize, and he is there for us to cling to when we find ourselves in precarious situations? What if he is truly our savior, in a very intrinsically self indulged manner, an instant gratification God if you will. Someone we can cling to and pray to in our times of need, but then put back on our mantels as we head back to our lives of careening and swerving toward Ithaca? What if the point is to arrive with a very Hunter S. Thompson spark. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” As a side note: I don’t see Hunter S. Thompson saying ‘wow ,what a ride.’ I like to imagine this quote was wrong and what the man really meant was “Holy shit, what a fucking ride!”
The thing that got me thinking about how I am living my life, if I am truly enjoying the ride, the journey of it all is a quote I recently saw by Ursula LeGuin, “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”
That quote brought about all these thoughts that I wanted to put together in one place. Isn’t that what this blog is for anyway? A place to put all my existential thoughts and curiosities?
So you see, I have had the journey on my mind. If I were to sum up my journey thus far, I would say I have built up sufficient bills, I have traveled the world over, I have met extraordinary people, and I have friends that abound and are true. I have written a life’s work, all of it awaiting its chance to ‘do something’. I am not worried about fame or fortune, I have been famous, I have taken my bows in front of hundreds of cheering fans. I have sung throughout the world, I have written the whole time, I have smiled in the face of heartache and held fast to the mast of my ship while the storms have blown. I am a little worn from the challenges, I’m bruised and weather; but I’m still here, ready for the new adventures lurking around each corner, and trying in my own desperate way to keep the Cyclops from filling me with fear.