Peculiar Effects of Travel

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The tyranny of the necessary has a way of gobbling up our one true (and most fleeting) possession: time.

For this reason, and others, I haven’t made travel a priority in my life.

I did, however, commit this year to get up and go adventuring, at least a few times, beyond the borders of Illinois (my home state).

Early in 2019, I flew with a friend to San Diego for a few days. We casually biked and strolled along the ocean shoreline, walked in an exotic garden, dined and drank a little, shared some laughs, and just hung out.

This summer, I drove to Minnesota to meet up with a group of church friends for some pretty serious cycling on gorgeous trails that had once been railroad tracks. We pedaled, coasted, chatted, laughed, shared, philosophized, and encountered some lovely pies.

Just yesterday, I returned home from a visit with a friend in Denver. We hit a bike trail in the mountains, went hiking at Red Rocks in Morrison, saw Bruce Hornsby at a beautiful outdoor music venue, and enjoyed deep conversation and warm companionship.

Each of these small adventures was a nice break from the well-defined rituals and necessary chores of my daily life. I got to see new places, have some fun, and enjoy the company of people I like and admire.

But there’s something else about these travels that make them unique among human experiences.

The movement itself, the traversing of distance … watching mile after mile of American topography pass by … brought some things into sharper focus for me.

I’m on a planet.

Duh, right? Of course, this is something we all know; but, when you’re mostly occupying such a very small and familiar patch of ground, it can start to feel like this is it. Like, my reality is this fifty-sqaure-mile zone. We make the mistake of sensing that the truth is what we can see.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger.

Vast, stretching plains, forests and farmland, rolling hills, creeks, lakes, rivers, mountains … it’s all out there under the sun, visited by wind and rain, beautiful and alive, teeming with every variety of plant and animal life, humming and thriving. Whether we see it or not, it’s there.

Our home isn’t just the structure over our heads or the geography of our hometown.

We live in a state, in a country, on a continent, within a hemisphere, on a planet with a total surface area of about 197 million square miles.

You feel that just a little more when you actually see a stretch of 1,000 miles—one moving image at a time—in a single day. I’ve been reminded of my world’s glorious expanse, and that reality hums in my head now like a newly discovered favorite song.

Telescope out, and we see that we’re in a solar system that’s in a galaxy that’s in a universe … and we start to feel pretty small.

Yet, here we are. Living, conscious beings, uniquely equipped to take in and translate all this natural wonder through the astonishing gift of sensory perception. Lucky us.

Truth is big.

The other thing that came home to me as I zipped through all that territory, is the subtle reality of impermanence.

There I was, moving on a highway at 70-80 miles per hour, across a planet that is spinning (if you’re on the equator) at 1,000 mph, as it hurtles through space at 66,667 mph. So, every micro-second my position in the universe is … well, radically shifting. I’m virtually never in the same space for any kind of measurable time. Which is much like the present moment. It comes and goes at lightning speed, already fading away as soon as it arrives. This is the impermanence of time and space.

The gift we get is now. Right now. This very second is the only opportunity we have to live on this spinning sphere. It isn’t when the workday is over, or when the weekend gets here, or when our vacation arrives, or when we find love, or when we retire. It’s NOW. Always now. Always fleeting, and always a gift beyond comprehension. This breath. This heartbeat. This step. Seize it, squeeze it for all it’s worth, baby … ‘cause it’s whizzing by faster than the speed of light!

We can convince ourselves that this material world is solid, because that’s how we experience it. Your body, a table, the ground under your feet, mountains … you can touch them, push against them, and feel their substance. You forget they’re composed of invisible particles in constant motion. Every visible thing is made up of madly-spinning invisible things. Crazy.

Your body loses and gains atoms, all day, every day. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body are replaced yearly. You are literally, materially, a new person, every year. It’s an invisible truth, but truth nonetheless.

This is impermanence.

I want it to remind me of the stunning miracle of being alive. The incomprehensible gift that belongs to me every time I draw a breath. I want to see that there are no mundane moments. They’re all amazing. I want to feel that there’s no such thing as a wasted breath. Each one is an unrepeatable and miraculous occurrence. It’s mine. And it’s yours.

So often we seem to be seeking comfort in what we think we can know about our world, looking for “facts” to shape our reality, as if this were where comfort and safety might be found.

As if what our intellects can grasp, were the truth.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger. In the realm of human experience, accurate data are very useful; but meaning is what we crave, not some sort of list of ingredients of which material reality is composed.

What does impermanence tell us about what life means?

What matters? What’s critical and what’s trivia?

A question for us all to ponder as we make plans on a world that spins at 1,000 mph, as it hurls through space at 66,667 mph, no two micro-seconds alike.

How, then, shall we live?

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