Traveling #2

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Robert Lewis Stevenson

I never thought of Stevenson as a dharma bum but traveling is more than a state of motion, it is also a state of mind. A road trip lets your mind unravel like an old sweater that can be reknit again in a new design. There’s just you and the car and the road stretching ahead. I have always found it difficult to relax on a trip. I think by nature I am destination-oriented – a classic type A personality. But the secret of traveling is to forget about your destination and get lost in the motion of the trip.

After the first few hours, my body finds the least uncomfortable position and my mind is free to wander. This is the time I think about the people I will be visiting and remembering the times we’ve shared before; the time to watch eagles and hawks spiraling over freeways and wonder if they hate us for invading their land; the time to see thunderclouds in the distance and watch spikes of lightning drive into the ground; the time to discover that how I felt when I was 25 or 35 or 45 is exactly how I feel right now; the time to wonder where it is I am going and if it matters.

All traveling is a voyage of self-discovery – if only by contrast. Once we leave the comfort of our own environments, we must be a little more alert and aware, for who knows what rules apply in this new domain, what game is in the making, what side is carrying the ball. It is in the South I realize how fast I talk and move; it is in the Midwest where I feel the most Bohemian; New Mexico and Utah make me feel over-civilized. It is by discovering what I am not, that I sometimes learn who I am – a subtraction process- not this, not that.

Why is it that we travel – for a change of place and pace; to meet new people and see new things; to be revitalized and restored; to be changed and transformed? What ever it is we most desire, even unconsciously, becomes symbolized in the trip and by reaching our journey’s end we expect to be a different person.

What would any journey be without the chance meeting with the Stranger who comes in two guises: the Listener and the Teacher.

On the road I am the hero of my own story. I can include or leave out as much as I want, change the characters and their roles, play the role of the victim or the victor. My secrets are safe on the road and strangely enough it is there that I am most likely to tell them. It is the Stranger on the train to whom I pore out my life story in complete safety for our paths will never cross again.

It is the Listener’s opinion I ask for and listen to when I talk about the guy at work who is gunning for my job, that little affair I didn’t mean to have, the secret monkey on my back I carry from midnight to midnight. It is the Stranger as Listener who takes the role of Sibyl or priest, and by hearing the confession of my little life grants me absolution.

If I am in a receptive frame of mind, instead of telling the story of my life, I may chose to be the audience for an Other’s. It is the Stranger as Teacher sitting on a rickety bar stool somewhere in a mountain mining town telling how when the black lung hits, you don’t feel it in your lungs at first but in your back, which he then demonstrates by a blow between my shoulder blades. From that moment on whenever a bad chest cold takes me, it is the sound of his voice and the blow of his hand that reminds me that mortality stalks us all.

It is the Teaching Stranger who buttonholes me while I browse through a bookstore and announces that people have lost their capacity for playfulness and then rambles on about lost children whose laughter is no longer a part of her world.

Are we Teacher or Stranger? Are we traveling to lose or find ourselves?


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