When the night came in, we rode it–as if it were a thing as structured as our own legs. Or the cars on a city train. Things that carry and it carried all who stepped on. It was gracile, it was precise. Like the trains it invited us to keep moving because even the most circular distances eventually offer a divergence, slipping you through a boundary, the erasing of imagined lines.
What I loved about stepping out of Union Station onto Canal Street in Chicago was everything. It was an intense, revitalizing change from the dear and lovely and much smaller city I had left a little over nine hours earlier. I loved the absolute motion of busy, unending traffic, and the turban worn by the taxi driver who answered my waving hand, and the Islamic prayer beads hanging on the taxi’s rearview mirror, and the layers and layers of streets crowded with layers and layers of people, and the unavoidable energy of so many lives taking place within the same perimeters. I was in the right place in a right time.
Being there did not save my life, but it helped me, immeasurably and graciously, as I started a new phase of my lifetime.
Out of curiosity, adventure, the need for growth or entertainment, we travel to new places. We travel for any number of personal reasons, including out of love; love for a place or a person, or love for ourselves when we need to give ourselves whatever opportunities, from whatever new ideas and experiences, lie inside of taking in new surroundings.
The first line of motivation for me in my journey: love.
The love of a friend who had possessed the valor to be there for me on the opposite end of telephone calls and messages during little patches of calamity in my days. Then to be there for me at the transit station, where I stood in the heat, my bags on a bench beside me, an unsteady feeling of anxiety still threatening to overpower enthusiasm in my change of habitat. Such a strong seed of love cracked itself open and filled my body when a car stopped at the curb and I saw a smile I hadn’t seen in almost ten months and suddenly realized how very much I needed this smile.
The love of myself also–I deserved this trip because it was the right action for me to take. I hadn’t left my hometown in two years and, simply, I had been longing to move beyond its borders and walk along different streets and drink coffees in different cafes and feel the interesting coexistence of sameness and alienness that would exist while nestling into these different settings. I always feel my appreciation of this world broaden when I see more of it.
The second line of motivation for me: I need to grow.
Every day, for months, for close to a year, I had been repeating this to myself as both a reminder and a challenge.
I need to grow.
I had been finding myself thinking back to my time in the Platonic Society, my university’s philosophy club. It might seem simple, and likely boring to some: five to ten people sitting in academic offices, professors’ homes, or cafes and discussing what reality really is, what the purpose of our existence really is, what knowledge itself really is.
Discussing, mind you, not conducting experiments, not moving about in the world and experientially determining the validity of the philosophers’ words we were quoting, paraphrasing, analyzing. We were discussing, talking, shooting the breeze in other words. But we were all so full of passion to really know why we are here; why, like everyone else, we’ve been given this time and this reality and then, what we are supposed to do with it. We were talking, and we were growing, and the fact that we felt ourselves growing–even if in slight and uneven ways much of the time–gave us more passion to keep our minds searching for more words, more ideas, and more discussions.
During my time in the world of philosophy meetings and soirees*, I collected a number of quotes from the writings of many of the philosphers who have passionately assessed the knowledge banks of our universe in order to take in as much as they can understand so that they may put it back out with reciprocity, that all may have the chance to take from it what they will, and possibly understand themselves and existence a little more comfortably. I needed to grow, and a quote from Rene Descartes kept presenting itself in my mind, and I let it stay, and analyzed it, and let its meaning grow:
“The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.”
I took out greatest in relation to mind, this wasn’t important to the situation. All minds, as I decided to understand it, are capable of the greatest vices and the greatest virtues. We are all susceptible to negativity that impacts our lives in a negative way, but we are all also capable of redeeming ourselves. In any situation.
I needed to grow, and so I bought tickets for Amtrak, packed a couple of bags, and rode nine and a half hours to Chicago, uncertain if I was going to make it through the train ride as well as the next few days without having an anxiety attack, the full-blown type that induces physical and mental panic. Uncertain if I would be able to fully enjoy the adventure I knew I needed. There would be only a distance of roughly two states between myself and my home–my city and my family–but in terms of being in my safety zone, I was in the hundreds of thousands of miles out of range. Still, I needed to grow.
And I did. A lot can happen to the mind and heart, the logic and emotions, within a seventy-two hour duration, which is about the amount of time it took me to go and come back.
It’s too personal to explain, though, and this is how it goes for each of us. Part of our journey is external, yes, but a greater part is internal. It is how we, as individual selves or personalities or souls, hold our experiences within the places of ourselves that keep us fastened to our world with passion, love, compassion, and what we believe to be our own, identifiable, unique purpose here.
I could try to explain exactly what it meant to me to ride through a bigger city; to be wrapped in the warmth of a friend (and, I would later discover, my future husband) I was grateful to be with and who participated in setting a huge change in my life in motion; to observe the vivacity of so many different kinds of people moving with the city by foot, vehicle, or city train; to have the feeling that I could be a part of any place and any people on this earth that I place myself among. I could ask you to understand how healing and symbolic it was to cross the boundaries of state lines, move forward and break free of the circular motion I had confined my days to, often too timid to venture further into the great, waiting world. I could give play by play details of what it was like to synchronically bend, alter, then break both physical and mental habits of hiding, how it was done, and how extremely, way, way cool it was to grow up in a much needed way, finally! Thank God.
I think, though, that these images in my memory are most poignant to me and me only. That is how it is and I would like to keep it this way. What I can share is the basic, overarching idea–that moving in the world always helps, in some way.
So I leave you with a quote that I’m really liking these days: “If you cannot get out of it, you may as well get into it.”
During online research I discovered this quote, said to be “popular in the U.S. Army.” Yes, you’re in this existence, you have a lifetime, you cannot get out of this fact. This thought has occurred to me many a time in my life, giving me a bizarre, surreal type of feeling most times. Often, I haven’t known what to do with this vague discomfort that can accompany being such a sentient being. Now I know: just do what I’m doing, as they say. Take more trips, ride more trains, walk down as many roads and sidewalks and hills and other forms of terrain as possible. Just get into it, this clever little creation called life, as much as possible.
*A note on the soirees: A colleague once asked me if philosophy soirees have anything other than wine and cheese, undoubtedly imagining them as extremely formal affairs. And while yes, many that I attended did have wine and cheese, they also tended to offer barbeque wings, potato chips, and beer. It could be a Midwest America thing, though.
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Lost in the Clouds?–NY Times, article on philosophy
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Travel to Create Yourself–Psychology Today