I didn’t get it; really, I didn’t. It took a long time, but finally a light dawned. The whole pseudo-argument about Life being a “journey” rather than a “destination” is a crock.
I mean, think about it. How can you have a “journey” without having a “destination?” It’s sort of a package deal.
If you’re a tourist yearning to go traveling, you’ve got all kinds of professionals – a whole industry — trying to help you find a way to get to some destination or other. Isn’t that why they call tourist traps “destinations?”
DON’T BLAME IT ON WALDO
Some dork-head saddled poor Waldo (Ralph Waldo Emerson, that is) with the blame for starting the whole thing. Ever afterwards, assorted nerds and other wannabe wits have constructed those silly memes in his name.
Emerson, in case you didn’t know, was an extraordinary 19th-century man of words. He was an American lecturer, a poet and an essayist-philosopher whose lectures drew rock star-sized crowds.
A young Unitarian minister in Boston, Emerson quit the clergy in 1832 about a year-and-a-half after the untimely death from tuberculosis of his beloved first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, brought on an identity crisis. He was deeply affected by her death.
Emerson did some traveling then, wandering about in Europe looking for answers to his Big Questions. When he returned home, he began giving public lectures (a new-fangled form of paid-for entertainment that got really huge).
In the lectures, he told larger and larger gatherings of people about the questions he pursued throughout his life and the conclusions he reached in his ponderings.
He also wrote and published essays that were based on those speeches that often stirred up a lot of controversy. He made a career of it, eventually giving over 1,500 lectures all over the northern United States and publishing books of his thoughts that sold like hotcakes.
In this 2020 “NBC News Learn” YouTube video, David S. Reynolds (Professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York) talks about the man.
Emerson was a firm believer in self-reliance, individualism, and clarity of thought as well as an advocate for the abolition of slavery at a time when it was not politically correct. He also helped to start the American version of the transcendentalist movement in New England.
The man died in 1882 at the age of 79. His legacy of words has inspired generations of deep-thinkers ever since, despite the shifting landscapes of prevalent mindsets and the assumptions, premises, hypotheses, and such that have developed since his time.
Many of his thoughts and ideas might seem out-of-fashion, dated, or just plain unpalatable (aka Politically Incorrect) these days, but many more seem to be spot-on still.
Emerson remains, always, a quintessential maverick, following his own path.
WAYFARING IS A WAY OF WALKING
Emerson was famous as a “wayfarer,” a person who travels by walking. He was also a great believer in the value of walking for the thinker. He once opined,
“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much.”
That was Emerson…the same guy who also advised, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The most famous of his regular walks was the “amble” that he and his friend and protégé Henry David Thoreau would make between Emerson’s home and Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond. The conversations between the two men during these walks undoubtedly influenced and helped the younger man formulate his own thoughts about nature and about life.
Thoreau, too, became yet another notorious maverick deep-thinker.
Click the button below for a map of the walks the two men used to take.
(You might also want to explore NATURE AND WALKING, a book put together by editor John Elder that brings together thoughts on “Nature” by Emerson and Thoreau’s thoughts on “Walking.”)
THE “UBIQUITOUS THEY” (UT) AND WHAT THEY SAY
So, what does all this blather about dead deep-thinkers have to do with journeys and destinations?
Let me introduce you to the “ubiquitous They” (abbreviated by me as “UT” to avoid having to continue to repeat that queasy-making phrase over and over again).
Life, the UT tell us, is a Journey (with a capital-J). They tell us that we are all Wayfarers (with a capital-W), walking down assorted paths over hill and dale, wending our way all over the landscape, heading for some destination or other.
This analogy has been repeated so many times in so many ways that it has become a hoary old cliché. Many people believe that it is also a for-real Truth (with a capital T).
The problem with venerable old Truths with moss growing all over them, of course, is that over the centuries of human existence many human minds have had a go at trying to figure out what that durned old cliché of a Truth is good for and why it even matters.
Since everybody’s got their own definition of what “good” is as well as their own purposes, agendas and all that, this can be a big Problem (with a capital-P). It can certainly get dizzy-making.
POINT A –> POINT B = JOURNEY
The thing about Journeys, the UT will tell you, is that there is always a Point A (where you are) and there is always a Point B (where you want to be). After that, it gets complicated.
The UT will tell you that your Wayfarer mission (should you choose to accept it) is to get yourself from Point A to Point B. Covering the distance between Points A and B can make a good story, a bad story, or no story at all.
If you choose to proceed, you, the Wayfarer, are officially on a Journey. (The story-telling part is optional.)
If you don’t get to Point B, then you face a choice: continue onwards towards the destination Point B or quit. At that juncture, the story takes a different turn as your stopping place becomes your new Point A (because that’s where you are now), whether your Point B stays the same or not.
If you do get to Point B, you will have accomplished your mission and all sorts of celebrations will ensue all over the place. (Whoopee! Whoo-hoo! Yay, you! Cue the fireworks.)
What the UT usually neglect to tell you, though, is that when you do reach Point B your old destination point will automatically morph into your new, where-you-are Point A, replacing the old Point A from where you began this trip.
They also don’t tell you that once the celebrating’s done, Wayfarer You will probably start looking around for another Point B that you will then want to reach because (the UT will say if you ask) that is what us humans do.
So, like a good little Wayfarer, you go look for another point B. When you do find your new Point B, obviously, it will become your new and improved destination.
This will mean that, of course Wayfarer You will then start on another leg of your Life-Journey (notice the capitals) which will continue onward until you either decide to stop goofing around doing this stuff or you drop dead.
Dropping dead signals the end of the ongoing Journey-story of Wayfarer You.
That is how it is. Ask the UT.
There will, of course, be a lot of advice, suggestions, recommendations, guidance, pointers, admonitions, directives, and so on offered and even pressed upon you at all times. All the people talking at you only want to help you, the UT say.
These helpful sorts will also routinely toss in many warnings and caveats and cautions and downers at you. (More “help,” one assumes.)
And then, it is almost guaranteed that as your “reward” for your oftentimes-wandering attention, there will come a number of UT expectations and other assorted offers of burdens or responsibilities or some darned thing or other waiting to be heaped on you as a result of whatever methods you’ve used to successfully travel from your Points A to your Points B.
ACK! A whole bunch of other choices to face!
What’s a body to do?
SOME THOUGHTS…NO ANSWERS
My major problem with all of this is that, for real, I am a wayfarer born. I am going to do this thing regardless of the very real consequences of getting dizzied, confused and frustrated by all the steep switchbacks and nonsensical detours and useless spinning around trying to figure out where I am in this old world.
I’m just too fidgety to do otherwise, I suppose.
Knowing the pitfalls of being a wayfarer who focuses on just destinations to the exclusion of noticing and enjoying one’s surroundings and circumstances is one way to be aware of and try to mitigate the effect of having your mind turn all of your world into a gray and featureless wasteland that you have to get through in order to reach some ecstasy point or other.
Knowing the dangers of being a wayfarer who gets so over-amped and bedazzled jonesing over the wonders you encounter along the way that you miss the (very small) direction plaques and exit signs for the turn-off that leads to your own dreams is one way to keep from spending a lifetime stuck in transit stations or on highways that just go on forever.
It does take a bunch of effort to pay attention and to notice the impact of the effects that my life-choices make on my own self. It’ll probably be the same for you as well.
However, the biggest bennie of it all is that it also means that you can turn down the volume on the UT blather. Someday, maybe, you will even be able to switch the thing off.
That last would be a mighty relief, I say.
Here’s a poem:
HUBBUB AND STRIFE
The push-me, pull-you continues
As this one’s needs and that one’s desires
Just do not mesh.
I must confess: I am nonplussed.
I do not know how I am supposed to move
When extreme polarities insist on standing toe-to-toe
In direct opposition to one another.
What am I supposed to do?
Each one is so very sure
That theirs is the only Real that counts.
They act as if the whole balance of the universe
Will tip over into the Abyss
If this one or that one does not move out of the way.
Rigid, they stand, nose-to-nose and scowling,
Trying to stare through the other one and insisting
That I must lend my weight to one side or the other.
(As if me joined with one of them
Will be able to disappear the other;
As if the Universe is not big enough to contain us all.)
This is too weird, guys.
I do not want to play.
Guys…guys…can you hear me?
Me, I can hear the sun laughing
And the breezes are dancing through the trees.
I’m going to watch the grass grow now.
Call me when you’re done, guys.
Call me when you’re ready to stop standing there.
Call me when you want to play nice.
By Netta Kanoho
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