I remember growing up that we always had books in our home. My mother would get into one of those specials at the local grocery store where once a week you would purchase a book, whether it was an encyclopedia series or some other series. Each week I would anxiously wait to see what she would bring home from shopping, what new worlds would I see, the possibilities were endless. I spent hours just looking at these volumes, carefully cracking open a new one as gently as one would open a treasure box then gaze in wonder at the photos, maps and the bright bold colors inside. Living in a world where television was still black and white, these books showed a world of vivid color where the people seemed to jump right off the pages. One special series she got was called, The Golden Book of Classics, a several volume set that covered everything from classical Homeric stories to the tales born out of the dark ages of Europe. Fairy tales, good and bad witches to the moral of that Aesop’s fable, these were my vehicles to escape and to travel well beyond that third floor apartment on Congreve Street. It was in those Golden Classics that I got my first taste of the Odyssey, Homers tale of Greek hero Odysseus whose travels back to his kingdom of Ithaca. It is filled with giant Cyclops, strange places and people, even a few bewitching women. Not only did I read the story these books contained bright illustrations, Cyclops bearing down on our heroes, club held high as he chases the hapless Greek sailors, some to their doom. Besides the Odyssey, I read Beowulf and many other tales of grand heroics in a strange land so many years ago. Growing up, these books, as abridged as they were considering the youthful audience they were intended for, were my Long, long time ago, in a country, a place, yes and even a galaxy far, far away. Here there was adventure, a place a grand heroes, where in the end even the suitors for Penelope’s hand were dispatched with a bow they could not even draw.
Lately, I’ve been reading about journeys, whether they are fictional or real tales. I just finished a book written by British poet, Simon Armitage entitled, Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey. This book is about this poets attempt to walk Britain’s Pennine Way, a 256 mile journey through moors, woods, hills and vales. Along the way he meets with people, reads some poetry but mostly he gains a new perspective of himself. I have to thank my friend Elizabeth for loaning me her copy of this book, coming at a time in my life where I am beginning to see on the horizon a new direction for my own journey. One thing that struck me is that Simon doesn’t complete his walk, just as he nears the end of his travels he stops short of completing the trail. He had intentionally chosen to do this walk starting in the north of England and head south to his home, and in the end it became not so much of a challenge to finish but a realization that some journey’s have no true endpoint.
A few years ago a friend of mine and I undertook our own epic journey crossing the United States by bicycle. It came at a time when I was facing challenges, my own version of the Odyssey where along the road I faced the giant Cyclops of mountain passes, the sweet song of the Sirens urging me to stop and stay, the drive within to return home where love dwelt secure. Even though we completed our trip, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, has not meant that the journey is complete. Getting a special badge, or being able to check off some box on an old and faded bucket list was never my intention.
Where will my journey take me next? I cannot tell you that for sure, if anything, this past year has taught me, and taught me well, that life is indeed a fragile gift. It doesn’t take much to throw one’s fantasy into a bit of a skid. So, I will continue on toward my own Ithaca, to that place where love awaits and where I might find rest. Along the way I will continue to be challenged, blocked, even be a bit scared of what I might find, but like Doctor Who, I travel with a companion, my dear wife Jane, whose love gives me the strength to get up each day to face down those fears.