I have thought recently about a friend who is doing the Camino and about a friend who will go west to run the Vegas Marathon. I have also thought of friends who this year will hike the Grand Canyon, travel east, go to Central America, and see Taos. Like everyone else, myself included, my friends are prone to wander. I’ve thought of this and wondered why we are this way.
I went looking for the answer and got these rather quickly. Most had to do with what is appropriate for one’s age. At twenty you have to see the world, meet new people and see strange places all the while feeling sorry for all those workaholics who do not take the time to do so. You conveniently forget these folks are usually older than you and have children and bills to tend to. At thirty five you make amends for this hubris as you realize there are those who are more important to you than you are to yourself and you take those very important little ones out to get their mouse ears and to learn to love the National Parks.
Sometime after fifty you remind yourself again of the little ones who are not so little anymore. You travel to another state to explain to them why you have done those things you did along with the regret that you wish you could have done more. Then at sixty five you go back to them again and look into the eyes of their little ones as they tell you they hope they can be as good to them as you were to them. Eventually you prepare to travel again as you draw your last breath and go to that undiscovered country.
In the end it all comes down to one thing. We go out there because we spend our lives not fleeing from, but rather going to a place called home.
When I was young and lived in the Canal Zone, my parents would take my sister and me to Amador beach. Going there was a simple matter. It was a twenty minute drive from our place in Fort Clayton and one made often enough, but it was still travel of sorts. Tina and I took our sand buckets and collected shells. My dad and I would go fishing most often with little luck.
Once my dad and I took a buddy hike and I’m pretty sure Tina was there too. We walked around the Isla Perico just as the tide was coming in. Not having time to go around the island on the way back, we went over a small hill back to the car and the beach where my mother was. I remember that day because it gave me the adventure of travel. In my young mind, the hill may as well have been a mountain and the half mile back to the beach could have been a thousand miles.
I don’t remember how the day ended. Having weathered the incoming Pacific and making it back to our flat, my mom was probably dotting on the cats and my dad was more than likely cracking nuts and watching TV. Tina and I would be drifting off to sleep and I would be thinking of the day’s adventure as I did so. However it ended, a new day would begin without Amador or rising tides, though the story of my life would forever include these things and when I look back on having a home in Panama I always think of that day.
That is the way it is with travel. You go twenty minutes to a beach or halfway around the world, it ends with you coming home and in having a new place to call home. In this way it mirrors life. Eventually it is not so much about being out there as merely about being here wherever that here is and no matter how long we stay in that here.
The young if they travel wisely look up from their exotic dish or puts down their drink long enough to see the remarkable domesticity that surrounds them, a reminder that they are not really out there at all for the sense of place is always about here. And the old, if they travel wisely go to those places that are the homes and the heres of the people whose lives they have touched with the greatest meaning.
This summer, my friends will go into the world and I will do the same. In any case we will come home where even as having gone into the world we will have discovered one more place called home. We will also realize coming home is the best part of any travel and that regardless of the direction we travel, there is really no such thing as going out there as much as there is a coming here either to a place that has always been or will become our home.
Many years ago I had a friend, a woman much older than I. She had a dry wit fitting of her English heritage and a hidden story that was common enough. She loved a man and he loved her. They travelled together for a very long time until they came to a place where they could no longer do so. After that they led separate lives and she spoke of him rarely, though when she did it was with an odd mixture of regret and happiness. One day I heard he “went home” and she asked that I come to his wake. I never had seen him, but as it was important to her, I went.
I always knew my friend as a weathered woman with a smile that was youthful nonetheless. I wondered where that came from. The day of the wake, I think I discovered the reason. Among the pictures on display of his life was one with my friend who did not have her aged face, but one that was exuberant and youthful. Her smile was the same however.
The photo was taken in the Morocco Sahara. She was in her twenties next to a jeep in khaki shorts and a straw hat with a slightly older man who had the appearance of a protector, being at the same time both fierce and kind. It was obvious the two of them had traveled, but as travelers often do when they settle in for a photo, they looked the part of being in the place they were meant to be in. What may be a faraway place to others looking at a photo is most often only a “here” for the one in the picture.
Though I knew her grief was intense I envied her at that moment. She had gone out there and she had made there, here. Occasionally when I leave my familiar surroundings and find myself thinking I am out there and far away from home, I think of that photo to remind me that the opposite is true…..that no matter where we find ourselves, it is always “home” and “here.”
Image: The Bridge of the Americas: a sight familiar to anyone who has gone to Panama’s Canal Zone. Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Creative Commons