I forget who first said that – Chesterton probably – but it captures my experiences well enough. I remember the time when I was a still a long way from home, blundering through a wilderness, confused by the sights and sounds, distracted from staying on any one track for very long. Like most people lost without reference, I was probably going in circles. Occasionally I'd tag along with someone who seemed to know where they were headed, but always it turned out they were pretending, or deluded, or their destination seemed unattractive.
Then I met him. Well, actually, I realized I met him – that doesn't really make sense, does it? I had often heard people and communities speak of him, but the descriptions had never really presented an attractive person worth seeking out. But the time came when I realized that there was a familiarity to some of the strangers I encountered, there was a sense of deja vu. It dawned on me that that among all the strangers there was one who repeatedly intersected with my wanderings, one who I would encounter at the most unexpected times. What I mean is that there came a time when I met him (again) but this time realized that I must surely have encountered him many times before -- that "aha" moment when the pieces of the puzzle click together.
About this time I got really confused. The problem was that, while I saw the constancy of who he was, yet on each occasion he seemed to be the same different person! Its confusing, like meeting your lover each morning but he/she is in a different body. You know their phrases, their body language, but it's not quite the same as yesterday. This experience was rather like meeting the different incarnations of Dr Who – a familiar unusual personality, full of surprise, yet each time behind a different face.
So I began recognize the inner-he, and learned to talk to him despite the changing outward expression, to greet him as someone I knew – that is, when I recognized him. And so I expanded my relationship and learned to speak with him without anyone there at all … only him, the disembodied him, yet still present and larger than life. This only really makes sense when you experience it.
With this development I started hanging out with him more often … walking along wherever he was headed. Sometimes we'd stop and simply enjoy where we were, other times we'd race wildly along in exhilaration seemingly on the edge of disaster (although that never actually would happen). On occasion there were others along for the ride, but even then it always seemed like it was just he and I, no matter how many others were around. Mostly though, I remember just the two of us alone.
Sadly, as I see it now, I'd still be periodically distracted and leave him to head off to some interesting hills, or down into nice looking valleys, or pair off with someone else going a different way and who looked like they'd be kind of fun. When I did this, he would simply continue along whatever path it was that only he seemed to see. When inevitably I would get bored with my diversion, he would unexpectedly appear from behind some outcrop, or come along a path out of the bushes almost as if his path deliberately intersected with where I was, or as if he'd be there all along! And his demeanor was always one of expectation that I was ready to pick up our journey together again.
It's hard to tell what he thought of my delusional excursions; it was as if what ever I had been up was completely irrelevant; all attention was focused on where we were now placing our feet and the view ahead.
And so we traveled, my red-herring diversions become less frequent as I found his company preferable to being on my own, and on reflection, much more exciting. He was funny, and he really knew the country. He would point out sights to see and tell me amazing things about them along the way, things that I would either have completely missed on my own, or certainly misunderstood. He was amazingly perceptive, and helped me see inside the nature of people we met, and so to see behind my own facade to who I really was. That changed me. So long I had lived with a painted exterior showing what I wanted people to see, while underneath I was nothing like the outside. He was a little like paint stripper, I guess. And perhaps it was the rawness and sharp pain of healthy exposure that sometimes drove me off in shame onto a new diversion. But on these side trips I'd always end up repainting myself, and so needing the process to start anew.
I'm ashamed to say that without his insight I'd usually be a total pratt with other people! But now I grew to like the way I was now changing, in how I now related with others as my understanding grew that they were just like me on the inside. We're all only a fragment of what’s suggested by our pretentious paint job. Also, he didn't smile much when I acted like I was better than others, and I guess this was sometimes a trigger to go off on another diversion, a running away of sorts.
But it was huge fun when we were together. We sweated up some steep hills and battled through bad weather, felt the tiredness and even pain of exertion. We laughed a lot, cried a bit, swam in refreshing streams and lakes, and took pleasure in simple matters like food and friends. None of this was ever unpleasant, and it all seemed to contribute to a completeness, a joyful whole. If I am to be truthful, any moments of unpleasantness seemed to be of my own making.
It seems to me now that he seldom spoke – I confess I was not particularly garrulous myself. Despite this our time together always seemed strangely full of communication … his body language alone spoke volumes.
He was hard to know – I mean to really know, there was a mystery that was hard to penetrate. The same characteristic from the early days of our meetings, when he seemed almost a stranger on each new encounter, remained part of our growing relationship as if his depths were infinitely unfathomable. There would inevitably come a moment when, just as I thought I had a handle on his character, he would surprise me with a new side to his nature, and I'd realize how little I really knew.
In some ways this worked in reverse too … I was shocked sometimes at the unrecognized depths that would be exposed in myself, and I was often scared to venture there for fear of what I might find. I think that on my own I would have always settled for a shallow comfort zone of self understanding. Yet when we looked inward together it became something of a shared adventure.
Sometimes, when on one of my unhelpful diversions, I would hear others talk about him. I would even come across people who said they had known him, or even that they knew him still. But always I would listen and think, “yes, sort of, that sounds a bit like him, but that's not exactly as I know him, are you really sure that you're thinking of the same person?”. And then there were those people who were apathetic about him, and also those that actively disliked him. I felt sorry for them, and I'd think “You've obviously never sat down and talked with him, if that's your view.”
Interestingly, I don't think I ever met anyone who didn't seem to have some internal knowledge of him – everyone appeared to have a degree of awareness. He obviously got around a lot. I really don't know where he got the time, because I was spending more and more of my time with him and he never seemed to leave on any excursions of his own – I was always welcome to take up all his time.
When we were traveling together and came upon one of the communities who professed to know him, with their monuments and rules enshrining past experiences, they would not always be particularly welcoming. This surprised me. When challenged on this the people would insist, often with vehemence, that their understanding was the right understanding, and would allow no discussion on the matter. Then he would smile wryly at me, and and say, “Well at least they remember me once upon a time. But how sad that 'once upon a time' has become almost a fairy tale, and how they think they can capture me with rules and traditions. What must I do for them to understand that I am the rule, I make the tradition?”
I think it is on such occasions that I shared the deepest sadness with him, for this affected me deeply. Yet somehow even this could not cast even the slightest shadow on the joy of our relationship.
As the days became months and years, and we traveled ever more together, I came to see that my relationship with him was uniquely defining my life, almost that my very existence only achieved a measure of solidity when I was with him. My wonder, respect, even love (how we shy away from using that word) grew exponentially as I learned to see from his perspective, with eyes that gave new insight, new seriousness, and new depth and meaning to our travels.
This growing seriousness in no way diminished the joy, but was instead seriously joyful as we were went about being joyfully serious. From seriousness I came to an understanding of the contrasts of life. Instead of living in a perpetual muddy brown mess, where I once thought all was relative and that value was what I made it to be, now I was seeing with enhanced contrast – shadows deepened, light increased, and colours brightened. The tendency of the world to blur distinctions, to decry contrast that made them uncomfortable, is simply a running away from reality -- there is good and bad independent of our opinion.
Whereas before I might have reveled in, and chased after, the frivolity of happy experiences, this addition of seeing the depths of sorrow, pain, of struggle and failure only served to delineate the true joys of which happiness is only a fleeting veneer. By knowing the hard side of the journey, I understood more of the joy of the travels, and was more deeply satisfied.
All this time, however, there remained a deep dissatisfaction. Rooted at the core of my being was something I was not able to articulate, and for which I seemed to never find relief. It was some time before I was able to begin reconciling these deeper yearnings with the paths we walked. Long had I felt that the landscape we passed through, while pleasurable enough at times, was inadequate.
There came a moment when I realized that strangely, in all our travels together, I had never actually thought to ask him about our destination. Of course I had peppered him with questions such “what’s next?”, “so, do we go over there now?”, “can you tell me what's behind that hill?, or “give me a hand up her, won't you?” But never did I ask “What's it like, this place we're going to?”
The convergence of these matters came as I realized that my yearning was for the home I had never known, and that his walking with me was all about leading me home.
For all people there is surely an inevitable destination of their choosing, but my problem was that I didn't know how to get there. But he knew the countryside like the back of his hand, and he knew the path that I would need and enjoy; a path that led toward my home, and not to new strange lands. Along the way he even presented options … “did I want to go via that canyon, or along this river”, choices that made the journey my own.
Even more, I learned that he was asking me, as his friend, to help him with matters along the way, matters to do with helping others find their way home too. The dawning understanding of this caused, as you can well imagine, a growing astonishment. He was actually wanting us to be more than just be companions along the way, more than friends, to actually be fellow workers in something that transcended my own singular life. I don't quite know how to really express it, but lets say I felt daunted, and flattered, and privileged, and not a little scared. I confess that most of the time I don't think I've been much of a help – I seem to make a mess of it more often than not – but he seems to simply like the fact that I'm pitching in with whatever task we're up to.
This is where we are today, this is my journey. I value his company more than I can express. While I still stupidly stray sometimes into the surrounding wilderness – yet to learn the lesson that the grass is not greener on the other side – I find that more and more I consciously choose to travel with him.
We do lots of fun stuff together, new stuff, changing stuff, satisfying stuff. Sometimes its just the two of us, sometimes its with others, and quite often we're doing stuff for others. Occasionally I'll get ahead of him, and in my excitement I'll stub a toe or do something stupid like that. Then its as if I hear his laugh behind me at my naive eagerness. At other times I'll be lagging, and when I catch up he'll look a little sad because of what I missed. Mostly though, I try stay alongside.
Some of the activities are mundane, and then I find the danger that I might drift away for awhile, but thankfully now days I usually realize before too long that the mundane is really important to build a place for excitement. Laying foundations is often hard, but its necessary work (although I should add that these days it seems like exciting things are happening more often, but that may be because I'm learning to see things better).
I know now how this is all working … I'm going home.
I'm really keen to get there! But I also know that until then he wants to enjoy my company on the road. And so I am content to share the joy here and now, to join in his experiences, and to wait until the path reaches my front door. Then … well, that’s when I'll find out that my home is far, far, far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.