For this reflective look back upon my life I find myself in sun-baked Brooklyn, New York. I didn’t plan to be in New York at this time. I had just moved from San Diego, California to Yakima, Washington when I heard that my oldest son had had an accident, tore ligaments in his knee, and had to have surgery. After the surgery he would be unable to move and would need help with life’s daily intricacies, so together with my eleven-year-old son I made the journey across the country to assist him. New York and the entire northeastern United States is in the midst of a heat wave. The part of Brooklyn in which we are staying is old and run down and smells strange. It is populated largely by blacks who hail originally from the Caribbean and speak French and sometimes Spanish, and Hassidic Jews in dark outfits who speak Yiddish and Russian. The nearby shops are kosher and close in the afternoon on Friday and stay closed all day Saturday. The schedule took a bit of getting used to but it is a minor inconvenience. I have lived all over the world surrounded by assortments of dominant cultures and religions; I have learned to be adaptable.
But as I adjust to this most recent change I reflect on how different my life is than the lives of those by whom I am surrounded wherever I go. Most people settle early on. They dig roots; they find a steady job; they buy a house; they raise kids. Most people, in fact, except when on a particularly exotic holiday, don’t venture farther than a few hundred miles from where they were born. There are exceptions, sure; but that’s precisely what they are: exceptions and not the norm.
On the other hand, I have been traveling all my life. Almost as soon as I could stand up and stick out a thumb I was hitchhiking up and down the west coast of the United States. Later I ventured farther, to Mexico and Guatemala, then around Europe, then across the Middle East to the Indian Subcontinent. One would have thought that I would have worked the travel bug out of my system by then but no. After a brief foray back to the States I returned to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh; I got married and we had our first two sons there. Then we stayed in various homes in Greece; then we moved to Italy and stayed in a multitude of locations there; then we returned to Greece. From time to time I thought we had finally reached the end, had finally arrived at the house where we would retire, grow gray hair, deteriorate, and decompose – but it was not to be.
I became aware that there was not a future for my sons in Greece (nor, for that matter, for many other Greek young people) and I decided to move to the States so they could find some sort of opportunities for jobs and education and so on. The culture shock was difficult for me, as I recount in my memoir “America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad”. Nevertheless it was good for my sons. Circumstances dictated a move up north to the state of Washington, and I thought that there I might have a surcease, albeit temporary, from travel. But again I was mistaken.
And so here I sit. When I think about it, I have done as much globetrotting as many of the celebrities people envy and admire, though on a much smaller budget. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I can’t imagine myself burying my head in the sand in some pseudo-respectable middle class suburban home. It might not be wrong for others, but it would have been wrong for me. I need the diversity, the changes, the movement, the adventure.
I have a confession to make. Lately I have been dreaming of owning my own home. But… And herein lies the big difference. I do not desire this home to rest and retire in. When I think of it, I think of a place in which to store my books and other trinkets, and a place to which I can return and rest up between journeys. What I really long for is to continue traveling and writing. I want to take a camper all over North America, and then all over Europe. I want to revisit India, and especially spend a good amount of time in Santiniketan (the site of Rabindranath Tagore’s ashram/university in West Bengal), Goa (a beautiful, largely Christian area on India’s west coast), and Kodaikanal (a lakeside mountain resort in the jungle-covered Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu in South India). I also want to visit the south island of New Zealand, the Maldives, and many other places.
No, I have no desire to stop and rest, at least not permanently. The road calls me as it always has, that strange alluring open road on which anything can happen. In “Song of the Open Road” Walt Whitman said…
And here I am forced into an interlude. I quoted “Song of the Open Road” at the beginning of my memoir “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search”. I thought to include another quote here; I had one or two in mind. But when I began again to read the poem I experienced a tightness of the chest, a quickening of the heart, and I came close to shedding tears. So much of what Whitman writes is true of me. His exuberant ode to the beauty and freedom of the open road is unrivaled in its brilliance. I close, then, with some quotes from sections 9, 11, and 13 of Whitman’s poem. This, in summary, is what my life is like, and has been like for as long as I can remember.
“Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.”
“Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands towards you.”
“All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religions, solid things, arts, governments – all that was or is apparent on this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.”