Why We Wander, Part 2


Why do we wander? I guess the earliest travelers were hunters and gatherers, moving from here to there as a matter of survival. Then the pioneers, who didn’t crest the mountain looking for a better stereo system, but simply to see what lay ahead on this vast and astonishing earth. And the sailors. What did the sailors seek? Spices. Spices! Powdered passion in thimble servings. A taste of other cultures. The beginnings of a global society.

In the here and now, we Americans have so little reason to leave home. We have access not only to everything we need, but to everything we desire, usually in a dazzling array of options and special features — shoved under our noses and offered in alarmingly painless terms. Not only does the greater world seem to offer less than we can purchase or peruse from a comfortable chair, but travel becomes increasingly ominous with each passing day. Once upon a time, we were wary of flat tires and elusive ATMs. Now it’s the subway bomb, terrorists on the airlines, road rage, and children with guns. We’ve reached an age where there is perhaps more to paralyze us than to summon us hither.

Yet still we roam.

We roam the easy Caribbeans and the quaintly peculiar villages of Europe. We roam nerve-jangling world capitals and the endless, still expanse of the Arctic. We search for ourselves on solitary mountaintops and wander the far reaches of soil and sea for clues to mysteries we can’t even name. We travel because we are curious and insatiable, or even because we’re bored and want an effortless sideshow. We travel for perspective. We travel the easy ways and the hard ways, sometimes spending every last time for the privilege of lugging a backpack for weeks and sleeping on hotel rooftops. We travel to fancy ourselves among the beautiful people. We travel to look into the eyes of the hungry. I’m guessing the early nomadic tribes carried super-dominant genes, and I’m grateful.

Wildflowers on the Ruins

If Maine taught me the shape of a sunflower, Greece knocked me speechless with her version of the human spirit. I spent three weeks alone there determined to search the ancient temple and palace ruins for a renewed sense of the divine. I found more than I could have dreamed in terms of spirit, art, and the ancient footsteps of a race seeking God, but what haunts me still are the 20th century faces that greeted me daily in a tongue so foreign that I had to turn away from language to communicate. Instead, I sought clues in faces lined like palms and eyes that raised in reflection of intellectual activity and lowered with the surge of emotion. I felt the touch of those who were lonely, those who protected, those who loved. Each person I happened upon became to me not  purveyor of words or information, but the full embodiment of a life, a race, a country, a part of our common world — an alternative portrait of humanity. And in this meeting I was granted a supreme privilege and responsibility — the chance to witness a life, up close and personal — and it was as if I had been given a glimpse of God.

And maybe that’s exactly what did happen, simply for the price of looking — of seeing.

But there’s more at stake than my learning to see and the reaping of personal wisdom, no matter how well or how poorly I use it. There is a deeper knowing that resonates not in our brains, but deep enough in our blood and our bones to move us to action. Hear this story. Live this story. Spread this story. I think that’s why sirens call us to sea and strangers extend a hand. They are scattering seeds They are carving little openings through which we can grow.

Someone is calling me. Someone I do not know, someone I will never really know in the sense that I’ve known carpool moms or deskmates, but her story will live in me and help make us both whole, if only I will hear it.

Who am I to do this? Who am I to receive the rumblings of a spirit intent on being heard? I am no more and no less than a space just large enough to receive; a consciousness just large enough to bear witness.

I believe that every story deserves to be told, that every life was created to be held and considered in the thoughts and dreams and gut and action of a stranger. I believe that at this point in my life, I am summoned hither, not to preach or teach or heal or anything grand, but simply to shed my insulation and to see and to know — what? That this is a life. It is as dear as mine. It is as turbulent as mine. It is as brief and as eternal as mine. We are as different, and as alike, as any two lives can be. Any two lives.

For me, it’s all in the seeing. It’s all in the learning to notice and appreciate what is not me. Ego denial and other-affirming. An embrace of all I haven’t yet known, both in others and in myself. A recognition of who I am in all my global incarnations. It is a home leaving. It is a home coming.


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