travelerstales

Urazinduka ntutanga rwuba—You may get up before dawn, but destiny gets up before you.
—Kirundi proverb
When did you begin?

Was it when your parents had a roll in the hay? When your great grandparents huffed and puffed your grandparents into quickening? Was it back in the Neolithic, the Pleistocene? Your DNA, your constituent matter, is not only prehistoric, it is stardust—did your journey begin at the Big Bang, or before, when “before” had no meaning?

It is a cliché to say that life is a blossoming, but it is true. We are each a bloom of the ineffable, of something which has no age, and which no equation or words describe. We are all these: God’s breath, the point of an evolutionary spear, the curling edge of the Void, the mid-current of the River Now, perhaps even “robots from the future,” as at least one physicist has suggested. (Oy vey, I am hearing something from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, “All of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.”)

It is a cliché to say that life is a journey, but it is true. What shore did you wash up on when you were born? What well-worn coat of many colors will you be wearing at your end, or as Buddhists have it, your passage into the Bardo? What tools do you need to make this voyage? What wisdom must you acquire? Which companions will aid you? We all wonder where and when our journey will end, but of course it will not end, just as it has no beginning. Travel is the best metaphor for life, and can help you be ever more present at all stages of an eternal becoming.

The book that follows, eighth in a series of annual compilations from Travelers’ Tales, is an orchestra of travelers plucking at the strange harmonics of the world, and each one of them showing that we are part of one humanity.

It is a cliché to say that we are all kin, but it is true. Even if we hail from different clans, travel makes you certain that kinship is true not only in sentiment but in fact. The writers and explorers herein, and thousands of others not in this volume, partake of a kind of travel that Paul Theroux wrote about recently, “of the old laborious kind, [which] has never seemed…of greater importance, more essential, more enlightening.” This is especially so in a time of great upheaval, natural and political, which makes it clear once again that we never were in charge. If we seem to merely persist without volition or direction (and it’s not for want of trying), and politicians and our fellows disappoint us again and again, we are still free to fall in love with one another, we can still choose to explore the luminous world, become more conscious of blossoming around and within, ply the Golden Current in our raft of cells and cosmic material.

As I sit here this spring day, I’m listening to music by Moro, whose memoir Kin to the Wind recounts an improbable and deeply inspiring 1960s journey around the world as a young troubadour, traveling with no money or guile but with an open mind, heart, and his guitar. A little earlier than Moro, Swiss traveler Nicolas Bouvier wrote in Turkey in an account of his 1950s travels, The Way of the World (L’Usage du Monde): “I dropped this wonderful moment into the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again…the bedrock of existence is not made up of the family or work, or what others say and think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love.”

When did you begin?

James O’Reilly
Palo Alto, California