Tuesday, March 06, 2007

obstacles 2.0

During our flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, I read a few short, silly articles in one of those magazines found in the back of the seat in front of me. One article was a review/advertisement for a book by Daniel Gilbert called, Stumbling on Happiness. His thesis is that people don’t really know what makes them happy. We have dreams and ambitions and plans and desires, but so often when reached or realized, one finds that they tarnish quickly. Apparently, Gilbert believes that regardless of their plans and dreams, people are basically happy with the way things turn out. I’ve thought a lot about that for the past few days, and believe that the real purpose of books that make these claims is to encourage people to be content with the hand they are dealt. A quick scan of those around us doesn’t often reveal people who are happy with the hand they’re dealt. It seems to me that these claims are made to cause unhappy, unfulfilled people to believe that their situation is the same as everyone else’s, and everyone else is perfectly fine with it. Get with the program. Be happy like the rest of the world.
I don’t buy it. You can’t fool me. Ain’t many people any more happy than I am with the surprises, obstacles, unmet dreams, broken hearts, bad decisions, mistakes, and accidents. Why are emo workouts more common than bodypump? Why are therapists more in-demand than personal trainers? It seems closer to reality to state that few people are fulfilled though their dreams are realized, and fewer still when their dreams are dashed or things don’t go as planned
What I think I might agree with though, is that it is possible to be content with the hand we are dealt. In fact, I believe that quite often the hand we are dealt is far better than the hand we wished for. I just don’t think many of us have the ability to see that, at least not in time to enjoy the way things are – when they are.

Will and I arrived in Flagstaff just before midnight on Friday night. The temperature was 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sides of the road were quite snowy. When we got off the exit, my anti-lock brakes immediately began to pump, but still weren’t enough to stop me on the correct side of the stop sign. We drove through town looking for an open convenience store and slid and skidded all the way. I found one and asked the guy at the register if there was any way we could make it to the canyon alive that night. He sent us 30 extra miles through the desert saying there shouldn’t be any snow out there. He was right, no more snow until we reached the park.
Rite of Passage travel is supposed to be tough because it is a symbol of the larger journey on which we’ve already embarked, and just like the larger journey, there is a joy in overcoming and a beauty to be seen when one relaxes and realizes that his journey is not only a means to an end, but an end in itself. The journey is a major part of the destination.
We had no more than rolled our tires onto desert roads before the desert darkness surrounded. The horizon that we’re used to seeing glowing, was black. The only light was from the car, pointing directly ahead, and the moon and myriad stars above. The moon had nothing to hide behind and so hovered larger than life on what seemed like the horizon for the entirety of the trip. When we crossed over mountains, and when we were around the canyon, we could look down at what seemed like far beneath us, and see the moon and stars. It was a very surreal experience. We even encountered two Elk much more suddenly, surprisingly and closely than we might have wished for.
Once we’d entered the Park, we still had 28 miles to our spot on the rim to pack it in for the night. Immediately after passing through the gate, the roads turned white with about 2 inches of snow with no tire tracks and we drove through dense Piñon forest at 15 miles per hour creating our own path for the rest of the trip. My lunar love affair is public knowledge, so you can imagine how thrilled I was at this hours-long trek directly toward the sinking moon. I was given the gift of traveling through the high desert, in the black of night, east to west, with the constant guidance of the setting desert moon.

No matter how many times it happens to me, travel that doesn’t proceed as planned, is terribly frustrating as it is happening. But apparently just as often, the obstacles that are thrown in our path seem to cause us to be in just the right place at just the right time. I’ve written about crawling traffic for 200 miles in the pouring rain that caused me to be atop Fancy Gap in Virginia precisely at the right time to the most spectacular sunset, and a double rainbow set against the permeating orange atmosphere. I wrote about sitting still in rush hour traffic to get a good laugh at seeing a perfect, mint condition Bundt® cake sitting on the white line at the edge of I-20. There are dozens of stories in which our momentum has been governed to put us where we needed to be when we needed to be there, or even to keep us from someplace when we’re not supposed to be there.

I constantly strive to learn more clearly how important the journey is. It’s my desire to be traveler whose journey is the destination and whose final rest is simply a reward for the journey. Teach me to become attached and rooted only to people and to burn with the desire for their company on the metaphorical journey.
The 40-year journey that the Hebrews took was not reflective of the distance to the destination. My life journey is not to get me to the other side. In fact, I could be there in a matter of minutes. The journey itself is included in the destination, the goal. The kingdom is at hand - within and among us.
We journey through it to arrive in it.