Rushing forward obscures the goal
I look around at the remains, kick at them a little. There's not much left after a fire but twisted bits of metal and mutated plastic. The ash swirls away in the north-easterly wind, and the chill hits me for the first time. I shiver. They tell me it's a natural reaction to the cold, the muscles rapidly contracting to generate heat inside the body. Now, the fire is out, my body falls back automatically on the old defences, developed by years of evolution. The tiny, charred holes in my sweater don't make much difference to the insulating properties, but I thank the miracle that warms me through.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes
— Marcel Proust
I've led a simple life. It's a choice I made many years ago. That way I can keep the clutter down. But I notice I have stuff. You know, kipple. From time to time I move, and the crap stays behind, bagged and trashed. It's a good way to recognise what's important to you. Travel, by its very nature, means you recognise what you need if you have to carry it with you. I read somewhere that there's a growing gap between what we want and what we need. I hear people tell me that they need a television set, a dishwasher, a car with leather seats. And I despair.
I don't have those things. No TV for many years. Never owned a dishwasher, don't really want a car. What I want is happiness, and those things cannot bring me that. Labour-saving devices? Nah. What are you saving time for? Going to the gym? I can walk, I can cycle, I can dig my garden. What we really save time for is watching the telly. Let's not deceive ourselves that for the majority of the time, we waste our time doing things the media and our peers, tell us we should be doing.
The other things we have, which we think so important, are often not. Look around and ask "If the house were to burn down, what would I miss?" Those are the things to keep. The rest is surplus. Sell it, or turn it into ashes.
Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except Heaven and Hell, and I have only a vague curiosity about one of those. -
I walk back toward the almost-empty house with its dark, cold windows. The daylight has failed. I swing my arms and run briskly on the spot. The last tiny embers spiral up into the southern sky, and I know I will soon be following them, following a dream I have held close for many years. A different sky. My heart fills, and arms me again. I smile and prod at the remains of a wornout telephone. It leaves a smear of grey on my shoe. I wipe it on the grass. The neighbourhood cats prowl across the wall. One sits, yes flashing cold in the bright moonlight.
We spend our lives working to pay for things we probably don't need, while the finest things in life are those things money cannot buy. Family, friends, health. Life, simplicity. These are the things we should be seeking, not the material goods we are told to hold so dear. Romantic ideal? Maybe. But see the people from the City, who escape their tormented lives for the peace and quiet of a rural setting, who start making pots in the Scottish Borders. See them leave behind the trappings of what we call civilisation to lead lives in keeping with their spirits. For deep inside each of them is the desire for simplicity.
Sometimes it is better to travel than arrive
— Robert Pirsig
As a child, I once came home from school in tears. We'd recently moved to Nottinghamshire from my father's first tour of Germany. I was in tears because Christopher Talbot had been everywhere - Skegness, Bridlington, Blackpool. I was seven, and about to learn a lesson I will never forget.
You see, I'd only been to Italy, Germany, Holland, Austria. And the thing was, I hadn't realised that I'd probably travelled more miles in my few years than the rest of my class put together. My father held me, dried my tears. I smiled at my foolishness. I was young, I had so much to learn.
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware
— Lao Tzu
And that is become my goal. Books I have by the hundred. "...Of the making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh". True learning comes when one arrives. I have music, and clothes, and shoes. Kitchen knives and boxes of memories. I had computers, scanners, telephones galore. What do we need? We need to be warm and fed. We need housing, clothing, shelter. pots and pans and plates, shirt, trousers. How many pairs of shoes can a soul wear at once?
Back inside, the kitchen seems strange now. The table is gone, the sideboard. The plates and pans are sold now, the stove is cold. The wall clock is still there, the new tenant may like it. The sitting room empty but for three boxes, a suitcase, and my backpack. The house is still warm in relation to outside, but I hear the ticking as it cools, sense the floorboards shuffle gently underfoot. There's a strange feeling as I sit amongst my few precious remaining belongings, and outside the wind still blows. I'd forgotten how big a room can be when the clutter goes.
This was only ever a temporary place, but became too permanent. I'd not live in a tent or bender this long, and soon they'll be here soon to collect the boxes, and later, I'm catching the train to the airport, and can leave this bit of life behind.
By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another. - Proverbs 27:17
At the end of every journey, it is good to have a warming fire, people you love, someone to take off the travel-stained boots and ease you into a chair. And afterward, to return the favour in simple ways - sharing the chores by cooking, chopping wood or making the tea.
I settle back in the kitchen chair in the inglenook. I am home at last, everything I need is right here. The wind is blowing here, too, but not in a way that will uproot me. I am the willow tree, by the banks of the gently-flowing river. I bend in this wind now, fed by love and a shared spirit.
The soup is delicious, and warms me through and through. The chill has left me now, and I settle into the bosom of a new family. While I may shed a tear or two for friends left behind. But there's always the phone. Oh, and an internet connection.
Update: Having now moved to the US, married and settled, things are good. I still need to have the fire back at the house, though.