If you are looking for advice, then look elsewhere. The only advice you’ll ever find here is that there is no advice at all – at least, none I could give you. Instead, I’ll tell you what a man once told me. With clothes that fit like a circus tent and shoes that fell apart like dandelions blowing in the wind, he rosily said that the secret to happiness is to love, laugh, and travel. Besides sounding like a Hallmark card, I chewed on it for a while and replied that travelling was the first two things and more. He grinned toothlessly and asked why I was still around then.
At the time, I could not answer him. Now I can: because I’m a coward. I cling to routine. I follow some plan set in the sky and work towards it. I think that’ll it will make me happy if I achieve it, whatever it is.
Slowly, though, I am learning that there is more in life than checking things off some list. The man, although disheveled and unkempt, knew this. I am trying too as well. That’s why I hope that with this piece, I can move my words to the places I’ve been and write about the things I’ve learned.
Trains and buses hummed a hushed tune of strict schedules and routines as the sun peered through a masquerade of clouds. Numerous shadows faded out only to reappear again like a heartbeat. It was the pulse of life, shadows and sun.
On this particular Saturday, I found myself in Toronto. A blossoming behemoth, Toronto was a world of mystery, a city scraped from the sky rather than the land. As a Hamiltonian born and raised, I stood awestruck the first time I entered the city by myself. The towering construction. The quaint suburbia. To my wide-eyed naivety, it was world to discover. All I required was a bus-shuttle for a spaceship, a forty-five minute drive at hyper-speed, and like all astronauts, a good excuse.
I’ll have to admit that I was afraid of being overwhelmed at first. Every way I turned, it felt like something was happening and people were off busily hurdling themselves against the day’s struggles. It was so foreign – the necessity to be busy.
But something shook this unease. As I sat on a bench with a book in hand, a man with nothing more than a megaphone for a voice boomed across an indifferent street. His scraggly beard shook with each word he spoke. Above the sounds of the street vendors and taxicabs, he announced to all that he was second coming of the Messiah. He said he was Jesus Christ reincarnate.
My first thought was that Heaven must’ve really downgraded giving Jesus a megaphone instead of the whole fire and brimstone promised in Revelations. Besides, he wasn’t sounding any trumpet or riding a golden cherubim. It was a sham of an apocalypse.
But then I listened to what he said and realized that the apocalypse doesn’t start with Heaven. It starts with us.
“We are pillars of salt, not detached from the world but entirely part of it. Call us Lot’s wife. For like her, we are God’s children and God’s children are evil. We turn around when we see disaster. We pray for the worst and beg for even more than that. We revel in the failures of others. We wage wars. We kill innocents. We rape. We annihilate. Why? Because it is all we are. All we can ever be: God’s image. He created us to be like Him and His Grace gave us earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. He gave us materials to make guns and bombs. He gave us free will to freely will to kill each other. He gave us our smiling villains and disdainful heroes. He gave us disease to smite the world without order or reason. All and all, he gave us his word and his word is violence. So with the words we know – the words He taught us to know – we try to mouth his malevolent legacy from our orifices, only to bleed from them instead. This is why iron both drafts our swords and is in our blood…”
If I remember correctly, I bite my lip that same day. God’s fault, I guess. He gave us dagger-like teeth as well.
The remains of a T-Rex, an exoplanet, and thousands of ancestors I’ll never know flickered in between my fingers. “So,” I said with glee, “this is the Sahara,” as I picked up a handful of sand much older than I could ever imagine.
Bound in traditional caravan clothing, I looked like the left over remains of a failed Al Qaeda gig. My turban fit oddly obscure, becoming precariously more and more undone with each movement I took, while the loose-fitting cloth draped over me was eerily stripped black and white as though I were a prisoner from the 50s. In front of me, however, was no prison. It was infinity and more. Sand dune upon sand dune upon sand dune stretched as far as I could see. Even in my direct line of sight was a horizon caricaturized by a blurry line that was too indefinite to ever reach but indelible nonetheless.
Millions had crossed this desert, some even when it was a luscious utopia described only by the limits of natural law. Now it was still described by that and more for those stupid enough to abide by it. And in the summer’s unforgiving heat, I found myself to be among the stupidest.
Forget the luxury and tranquility of history. The way I saw it, I was stepping on someone’s hair or on their face or in a billion year old fecal remain. I was stepping on everything that ever was and ever would be. I was stepping on Death itself, from its beginning to its end to every grainy middle bit in between.
That’s when it hit me. Standing there in the cosmic stew of everything, I understood that people, no matter what generation and no matter the period in history, are all the same: afraid, dim-witted, and searching for an answer. As humans, our fear gives birth to our stupidity and our stupidity gives birth to explanation.
Up until that point in the desert, I thought that the world was significant, the people on it even more so. But here, clutching onto whatever was left of the beginning of the Universe, I understood that I was, and am, no different. Like my ancestors who had faded into time immemorial, I fart and scream and holler at things. I am mystified by the simplest of beauties, attracted by even less than that. I fight and argue for no reason. I am angered at my insignificance in the world and hate the stars for aligning such a fate for me. The world will not remember me, nor will I remember the world. I will be forgotten twenty years after my death – maybe even less than that. I am, and always will be, fleeting.
Until, one day, I fade into the sand and some boy, with a turban for a hat and a camera for a memory, picks me up and then drops me to the ground as if I was nothing more than dust.
In a fit of tears, she yelled across the hallway that she thought that this would fix everything. She was young. Her red dress hung low enough below her hip to cover her nakedness yet high enough to warrant the attention of everyone around her. Whatever was left of her mascara ran down her face in a pattern known only by misery’s tapestry. Pieces of her hair, which were once combed so masterfully, stuck out on end, evidence that even the most careful preparation is marred eventually.
He was holding on to everything he had: his looks, his pants, and an empty bottle. Wherever his shirt went was the least of his concerns. Besides, soon his pants would be lost too as he mumbled and fumbled and stumbled along laggardly. The floor seemed to falter under his weight – not because he was fat but because it could not support him in his time of need. The entire hall echoed rhythmically. Left. Right. Left. Right. He was trying to catch up to her.
It was obvious enough. They were running away from something. Perhaps each other. Perhaps something else. But in the aftermath of disarray and electrified air, they were still trying to run.
On what was supposed to be my most memorable trip to Mallorca, this couple taught me that running away doesn’t solve anything. Sure, someone can say they weren’t running away from one another but instead going to some other place to fight. Maybe that’s right. Maybe they found some novel problem in Spain. Maybe it all works out and they were only fighting each other because of the food or the service or because of the rain.
Or maybe they thought that by travelling, everything would change. All of their haunting anxieties, all of their problems, and all of their inadequacies would stay where they left them if only they flew fast enough.
But here in a three-story hotel with palm trees swaying and a beaching roaring on endlessly, I learned that wherever someone travels, their same neuroses would follow. All of their fears, their pains, and their unresolved conflicts are packed into their suitcase with them and spill out on the hotel floor afterwards.
I don’t know what happened to the couple. I never saw them again. I’d like to think that everything worked out and they found happiness in some distance place. I’d even go further and wish that by getting lost, they found themselves.
But I know that probably didn’t happen. Most likely they found out that in this changing world, with its disasters and magnificence so often associated together, the only thing that is stagnant is their judgement and burdens.
These are but a few things I’ve gleaned from my few travels. I hope, with a Europe trip in the works, there will be more. One thing is constant though. No matter where a person travels, they’ll learn from the people, the history, and the geography. From the slight nods in a restaurant to the hugs of your grandparents. From crying over a spilt beer to a soccer game in Poland. From seeing a tank in Algeria to an oasis in Tunisia. From a painting in Czech to Disney World in Florida. From a cottage up north to the snow of Finland. All of it will teach a person something and if they learn from it, they’ll learn from the world.