Friday, December 20, 2013

En route from Marion, Massachusetts, to New Haven, Connecticut

Et in Arcadia, ego
156 miles, 12.5 hours
This morning I slept through my alarm, set for six AM, and had to run to catch a bus leaving from New Bedford, supposed to allow me to transit in Providence to get into New Haven before noon. But the company failed to mention that I was supposed to change buses, to Greyhound, at a random transportation plaza in downtown Providence, rather than going to the bus terminal.  Now it already is after four and I'm stranded in Hartford, eight hours into what will probably be a fourteen-hour journey. It was supposed to be three.

I'm going to Connecticut to pick up a car belonging to my family, a car that I intend to drive back to Marion and then to Chattanooga, hopefully tomorrow, and thence to Atlanta, where the flight to Bangkok departs on New Year's Eve. But today's snafu has me questioning all sorts of things. Namely: what the heck am I doing planning for six months of constant travel when I can't even manage one lousy bus transition, in my own backyard, when I speak the language and can read the signs? How am I going to survive in Burma? Or Cambodia? Or anywhere?

It makes me want to buy the next bus ticket to the County and hole up for the winter. I find myself wondering what I'd be doing there. As I write here, in blue pen on paper, it's barely light in Hartford, so the County is already dark. I'd be back from my solitary walk, like the one on which I took the picture above, having seen the light glowing above the washout. Maybe I'd do yoga, think about dinner, make a pot of chai. I'd be putting more wood in the woodstove, petting my cat, listening to NPR. I'd be cozy in my office, with a blanket around my knees, working.

Instead I sit huddled in my down coat on a bench at an old train station, drinking fountain soda to stay awake, pretending to listen to my iPod to avoid contact with strangers. I've already burned through all my reading material and am debating buying more. They have a newsstand at least. And I see months of this kind of life laid out before me, months of sleeping in train stations, of existential angst, of constant fear that I'm on the wrong bus, train, platform.

I said to myself, during my first three-hour bus station wait of the day, that this day had a nightmarish quality to it, and then I stopped, because this is exactly my recurring nightmare: I'm in a bus or train station, or in an airport. I have to be somewhere by a certain time, or the time is already past, or I'm already too late, or I'm supposed to be elsewhere. My itinerary keeps changing, and I have to be shuttled across town in bad traffic. My plane's already left, or it's going to leave, or I'm going to miss it, and then, generally—I lose my suitcase or wallet or passport or ticket. Then I wake up.

But here I am, putting myself in a position to experience exactly that same sequence of events again and again and again, for months. Why? Because it's what I want, or claim to want. This is what I wanted. This is what I've always loved.

It's exactly the part of travel I've always loved—the fear, the missed connections, the life balanced on a knife's edge. Travel, especially in a foreign country and an unknown language, is a constant state of existential crisis. One never knows anything for certain. One swims in a morass of uncertainty, with a delicious frisson of danger running beneath its surface. Uncertainty becomes the water in which one swims, the water which one breathes. It's what I love, or what I'm addicted to, what I crave, what I long for. And the payoff is so great! The relief, when arriving at a long-sought destination, is a crescendoing climax, an utter release of pent-up adrenaline and anxiety.

The human heart is a mysterious place. Human desire utterly unpredictable. Even my own is a mystery to me. Once I heard Amy Frykholm read from her book See Me Naked, an excerpt about a girl so anorexic she'd become unable to identify her own desire for food. She couldn't recognize her hunger as hunger, so couldn't identify what she hungered for. My best friend's husband is a doctor who works with obese diabetics, trying to help them change eating patterns, and he says that many of them have never even had the experience of being hungry. They don't even know how it feels.

I am certain this trip is something I am hungry for, something I've hungered after for a long time. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart,” says the psalmist. More and more I think desire is a road map for life, a signpost pointing each path forward. The more I live closer to the bones of my own desire, not from fear of what anyone else thinks, or what others want from me, or for me, not according to cultural dictates, but closer to what I want from my own life—the closer I am to fine.

What I want, what I've always wanted, is to travel. Despite it's inherent labyrinthine torture. I am certain of that. Maybe not forever, but for now. And that certainty limns the waiting, lights the way forward.

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