June 8, 2009

Long last pilgrimage post 2

Josie, Phil, Max & Ebbie welcoming the Pilgrim home

Moving on from Colorado, I spent a few days in San Francisco then a few more in Wellington, NZ before returning to Perth. Unlike the rest of my journey, though, my heart just wasn't in this bit and I really only felt like I was spending time. I was more than ready to get home, to share what I'd done and seen and to get on with whatever I'd do with what I'd learned/gathered to align my pilgrim and everyday selves. That's the part of this journey that I think will prove to be the most challenging: It's one thing to wander openly as a pilgrim, it's quite another to maintain that sense of open, readiness within my day-to-day life. I have felt a deep sense of connection as I've traveled - even when I was lost in unfamiliar places - a kind of solidity and belonging to myself that I've never experienced before. The entire point of this work, for me, is to find a way to belong where I am - to feel less alone and to feel myself an essential part of something bigger than me, a link in the chain.

I've loved, too the moments of clarity and recognition that have occurred: The realisation that - for me, anyway - the liminal is not a stage of the journey, but the place I would endeavour to stay because it's the place where all things, all experiences and all possibilities exist. I've always referred to the opportunities in my life as a hallway of doors and my ease with trying new things came from an understanding that all that's required for change is that you open a door and walk through... and if you don't like what you find there, all you need to do is walk back into the hallway again. Somehow though, it was always been the doors that have intrigued me the most - like a pile of unopened presents on Christmas morning - they've represented all potential. I'm beginning to understand, now, my own relationship with that liminal place: it's where I am most present, where I respond to what's in front of me with all receptors open - my intellect, my spirit, my heart. It allows for all of the best that I am.

And finally, a story.
Leaving Wellington for Perth on November 20th, I called a taxi to take me to the airport. The cabby asked me where I was going and where I'd been - so I told him a brief version of my last months of travel. He (somewhat tersely) asked, "How can you afford to do that?" and I told him I was a research student and that my trip was partially funded. He then asked me what my research was about and I told him that I was researching notions of belonging and identity as they relate to ancestors and to place. He became almost irate and (quite angrily) said, "I thought, at least, you'd say that you were working on a something useful - like a cure for cancer!" I answered that I thought the pervasive sense of alienation felt by increasing numbers of people could well have a lot to do with whether or not they felt like they belonged somewhere, somehow, with someone - and that I hoped my research would deepen our understanding of how all that works. My cabby began then to tell me about his life: Indian born, he'd come to NZ for a better life for his family, but had had to work hard at menial jobs just to provide the basics. Back in India, his mother had grieved his leaving and later, after his father died, she'd killed herself out of grief, despair, loss and loneliness. Though it had happened several years ago, my cabby was still (quite obviously) deeply wounded by the event. I expressed my deep condolences for his loss and the air in the cab suddenly seemed to shift. He started talking about how if they'd known more about belonging, maybe they would have known how to help her and he asked me what I'd discovered on my trip.

By the time we reached the airport, we were caught up in a rapid and enthused exchange about what belonging means. He jumped out of the cab to help me with my bags and apologised for his early and aggressive challenge to the validity of my work, to which I answered that he had in no way offended me (he hadn't) and that it was exactly the challenge I needed to finalise my journey. None of what I've done means anything, if it's just an exercise in self-indulgence. The questions he asked - what good is this and what does it mean to anybody else - are exactly the questions I need to (regularly) ask myself. I thanked him (and he thanked me), we shook hands and wished each other well. Then I flew home.

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