FWIW: Going through some old papers last week, I stumbled on this. Seven months into what turned out to be a nearly two-year sabbatical 23 years ago, it’s my response to an email from my buddy Scott, poet and fellow-meditator, who “hoped that in traveling, I would discover a way to ease my pain.” After bristling about this for awhile, I replied:
You write of my pain. I don’t know about all this pain you assign to me: pain’s pain. Nothing special. I certainly don’t think it’s useful to “do” anything about it, like traveling the world. Where did we ever get the idea that we need to discover anything?
Most of our friends and family don’t seem to understand what this year (or more…at least 14 months, anyway, since our home is rented out until the end of this year minimum) is about for us. We barely know ourselves, but I know I feel more alive here in Tbilisi [Georgia] (I would have said the same for Guanajuato, Patmos, Mount Sinai, Nablus, Trabzon [Turkey]…when we were in those places) than I felt in Palo Alto before we left. I love life unrolling like a scroll. We literally don’t know where we’ll be from one day to the next. We decided to go to Patmos [Greece] on a whim (finding a cheap one-way London to Athens flight on the web and the next ferry from Piraeus happened to go to Patmos); we took the bus from Jerusalem to Eilat on an hour’s notice, arriving in Sinai at night, hitched the only vehicle on the road at 10 pm and were deposited at the sweetest place for the night-ah, trust!; we flew to Antalya [Turkey] on a day’s notice, once again exhausted with Israel; we came to Georgia because an Austrian woman had raved about it in Oaxaca [Mexico], and we discovered a Georgian consulate in Trabzon…and here we are, in an apartment, so lucky.
I seem to love the unexpected, life unfolding. Most of my life I’ve lived with a sense of purpose. Now “purpose” seems too confining: when I have a purpose, I set a goal, and move towards that place down the road…easily blinkered to the flowers and pitfalls off to the side. Now in my unrealistically ideal world, there are no distractions, nothing is more important than anything else. Yeah well, that, as I say, is the ideal. In fact, I check our stocks more often than I’m willing to admit. I fret when we end up paying more than $12 a night for a room. (Hey, we’re on a budget, alright?!) Traffic drives me crazy. I drive me crazy. But that’s not the point. The point is that, dammit, we upped and we went (with one bag apiece). Not quite knowing why, except that it would be different. Scott, this is what I want you to know: I’m so freaking grateful: (1) that we were in a financial position where we could take off for a year-plus (as long as we stick to our $40-50/day budget) and (2) that we did. Everyday, something new, a new encounter, a new awareness (often about our relationship—imagine that, after 26 years!), an adventure. This isn’t like I used to travel: I used to think traveling was sightseeing. Now I think it’s listening.
Pain? I’ll give you pain:
- The Palestinian engineer we were in a minibus with, we’d been having this courteous, fact-filled conversation about the Israel-Palestine situation, about the daily restrictions and humiliations the Palestinians have to endure, and I ask one more question, I forget what, and he loses it, suddenly shouting, says something like, “I’ll tell you why. It’s because we’re all so fucking miserable living like caged animals, that’s why!” Suddenly I get it.
- Rebecca, our Mexican landlady and confidante, telling the story of her marriage: her husband, like many Mexican husbands, took up with a younger woman, moved out, then he invited Rebecca to join them—as their maid. She says something in Spanish which I don’t understand, but with Louisa’s help I get as something like, “In your dreams, buster!”
- Notari, father of a family from Abkhazeti, breakaway province of Georgia, he and his family fled the fighting there nine years ago, came to Tbilisi as refugees with two young kids, lost everything, got their lives going again, still very poor, he and his wife (they’re both professors) haven’t been paid in six months. The daughter got a grant from Soros Foundation and spent last year in Georgia (State!)…she’s translating his toast to the time when they can entertain us in their old home: and I sense they know he’s pissing in the wind. They’ll never go home. They give us their khanzi, drinking horn, to remember them by.
It’s not all like that, of course. But someone said, “Tell me your pain so I can know you,” and we’ve gotten to know a lot of people the past seven months. You?