A Travelogue of the Interior

faith questions

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Harold Fry, Walter Mitty and Me

I am a pilgrim at heart.

One of my earliest memories is of my dad coming to say goodbye to 4 or 5 year old me in the dark hours of the morning as he headed off on a business trip to a magical, faraway place called Switzerland. That seemed to me to be a lot like Disneyland but for grownups.

I can still smell his cologne, feel his freshly shaven face on mine as he whispered his love and promised soon to return, and I knew the black fancy car was already out front waiting to whisk him away to the airport and off to his adventure. More than anything in the world, I wanted to go too.

The urge to travel, or more specifically, to journey, I am sure is etched deep in my DNA, and throughout the years of my life I have traveled as time, opportunity and good fortune have permitted.books

I have been transported by the requisite trains, planes and automobiles. I have traveled on foot, by bike, by boat and, dare I admit it, even in my imagination, but some of my favorite journeys have been by way of books and the millisecond frames of provocative films. My own story seemed best told as a pilgrimage, a travelogue of interior places, even though physically I rarely left the confines of my living room. The Spirit, however, seems uniquely undeterred by what we think of as boundaries of time and space. The world of the psalms, I discovered, was a place where past, present and future were all accessible, where physical space dissipated in ways that defied explanation, where the longest, most arduous portions of my journey were mysteriously begun and completed in the span of a few silent, still, knee-bent hours.

And so it should come as no great surprise that when my family made a bee-line for the Waterstone bookstore that was a mere stones throw from our Trafalgar flat last week, I hiked up my skirts and joined the mad dash. It should come as no further surprise that the book I selected and started thumbing through on the walk back, nose book-ward and thus running into people and trees, was aptly titled, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. The book tells the story of a simple English man, a few years into retirement, who sets out one day — in yachting shoes and a slight jacket — to walk down the lane and post a letter to a dying friend, and ends up walking the entire way across England to deliver the letter in person. His motivations are breathtaking — simple, painful, archetypal — and like most motivations for most of us, they are inaccessible to him until he actually begins to walk. It is in the walking, in the hunger of journeying, the leaving behind and the stepping forward one foot after the other, that he matures, a process that begins with a wrenching self-knowledge and ends with self-offering and joyful abandon.

I finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage somewhere over Greenland. The plane was dark, most were asleep, and I felt an exquisite sadness that there was no one else on that plane who knew Harold Fry, no one with whom I could reflect upon his well-traveled road. I blew my nose and dried my tears, sat for a spell in the dark, and pondered it all. Finally, feeling somewhat blue at having to say goodbye to Harold, I decided to see if there were any movies worth watching.secret_life_of_walter_mitty_ver7

My sister-in-law had posted on Facebook a few days earlier that she and my brother had immensely enjoyed the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and seeing it there on the console I pushed ‘select’ and settled in to see what it was that captured Joe and Camille’s affection.

To my surprise and delight, Walter Mitty — like Harold Fry, like me — is a pilgrim.   I won’t spoil the movie for anyone interested, but suffice it to say that Walter, like Harold, can’t entirely figure out exactly how he ended up in the life he’s got. In his imagination, Walter is a different sort of person living a different sort of life, a life diametrically opposed to the real one he finds himself occupying. In the beginning, his journeying is all in his imagination, but as the film unfolds we realize that Walter’s imaginary life has imperceptibly done a deep work in Walter, enabling him to take an actual journey in the real world — a pilgrimage by plane and helicopter, by skateboard and bicycle, in the company of drunks and gurus and in the end, entirely alone. He traverses continents, runs toward active volcanoes, travels backwards in time to his childhood, and forward into an unknown future by way of relationships. In the end, Walter — like Harold, like me — is made new by his quest which began in imagination, was fueled by hope and hunger, and resolved ultimately in a quiet assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.

Perhaps all pilgrimages are ultimately about faith.


Romantical Moments

We arrived in London two days ago and were treated to an absolutely glorious day — blue skis, warm sun, a light breeze off the Thames.

After dinner we decided to catch the last ride of the night on the London Eye.bigben_night

As we strolled along the pedestrian walkway that stretches over the river about halfway between the Waterloo and Westminster Bridges, this was our view — Big Ben and the Parliament buildings aglow, their lights mirrored in the river below.

As you might imagine, people had stopped up and down the footbridge to take in the view, and quite a few were sharing the moment with a lover. Hands held, kisses shared. Quite romantic.

Julia — ever the observant one — said to me, “Mom, there are a lot of romantical moments going on right now!”

I replied, “Well, Joey, this is quite a romantic spot don’t you think? In fact, maybe Daddy and I will have a romantical moment too!”

At which point, Julia wrinkled up her nine-year old nose, tried very hard to suppress a wry little grin, and squealed “OH NO!” and ran off down the bridge in search of her sister.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.



On travel


A strategically placed olive oil bottle, Greek restaurant, Holland.

I used to travel regularly for work, back in the day when my job involved launch plans and budget spreadsheets and international marketing entities.

Then I had kids and my job involved launch plans of a different sort. Budgets went out the window and my wanderlust was confined to the 5 mile circuit of school-soccer field- grocery store-home. Nothing at all wrong there — in fact, I wouldn’t trade this past decade for anything on earth.

But finally we are out on the open road — this road happens to be in Europe. Amsterdam > Paris > London to be exact. And while friends and family make great use of our homestead and pool, I am remembering why I loved Europe so much generally and travel in particular.

1. Step outside the bubble of Silicon Valley and you are confronted head on with the reality that people work to live, not the other way around. There is such a thing as “quitting time” and it usually involves a cafe and friends and relaxed conversation. It is not at all unusual to watch as people wander by on foot, catch sight of old friends, and pull up a chair. I have no idea where any of those folks were headed, but wherever it was, it was not as important in that moment as a coffee and smoke with an old friend.

2. Which brings me to smoking. Gasp. Cough. It does not appear to have lessened in the 15 years since I have been here. Not At All. My kids can now pick up the smell of pot 2 streets away (eeww they say!) and are getting a full picture of just how dull life is as a pothead. #howtoinnoculateyourkidsagainstdrugs

3. It is amazing what you will eat when you can’t read a menu. You do your best, handwaving and interpretive dance, and in the end you eat whatever it was you ordered because A) you paid for it and B) its all you are getting and C) for some miraculous reason risk comes naturally on a travel adventure. The kids are trying all sorts of things they’ve never eaten — some of it gets devoured, some politely rejected, all of it tried.

4. The entire world is not glued to a smartphone. Sure, folks are packing, no doubt. The thing is, if you are trying to do email on your morning commute you might actually die, as in get run over by a tram, a bicyclist, a taxi. At the very least you are going to be bumping the myriad people sharing the sidewalks with you, so it behooves you to look up.

5. Then there’s the walking. My kids are already loving it. At home I can barely bribe them to walk to Peets for a Saturday morning Cinnamon roll — a mere third of a mile. Here, they’re on their feet for hours at a time, and have energy to spare such that when we arrive at one of those wonderful European parks the soccer balls come out and juggling and keep-away ensue. David and I can’t get enough either. There is just something so wonderful about perambulating, then on a whim tucking into a side street to see what’s down there. Walking on century’s old cobblestone doesn’t hurt.

As strange as it sounds, in the end, I love the sense of being slightly out of control that foreign travel affords. Of having to struggle to figure out the train schedule. Of ordering off a menu you can’t read. Of reading a map to get somewhere. Of that first moment when you realize you are beginning to hear actual words in all those foreign morphemes. All of these small tasks conspire to slow me down, engage the present moment. I can’t churn over some existential problem (real or imagined) when the basics take full concentration. I appreciate help from strangers and friends in ways I rarely do at home, where mostly I eschew help as if I am too good for it, as if pride dictates I go it alone, all Marlboro Man-ish. My girls hold my hand everywhere we go, a little nervous at the strangeness but definitely captivated but a world much larger than the one they knew until today.

And like all great excursions, when we have a few minutes of downtime, we are already planning our next trip.

What about you? Any favorite things about traveling?