Journey as Destination

NOTE: This post was originally written in April of 2012.

I am writing this blog post aboard a train, on my way to New York City for the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair. The unique blend of anxiety and excitement that characterized the final days of preparation for the trip has subsided, and I finally have a few hours to relax.

As often happens when I travel by plane or train, I find myself musing on things philosophical. Something about gazing out a window as countryside hurtles past lends itself to reflection. (I’ll warn you now, this post will be one mostly dealing with thoughts on life in general, but worry not — I will tie it into books towards the end.)

The dialectic part of my brain can’t help but juxtapose the lazy idyllic landscapes with the quick steel of the train as it rumbles through. That dichotomy unearths the usual inquiries I tend to draw forth at times like these, most of which are comparisons of points on continua: leisure and work;  personal fulfillment and social responsibility; beauty and efficiency; love and friendship.

In life we continuously balance considerations such as these with one another, sometimes effectively, other times poorly, and I think our management of those balances determines how good we feel, and how effective we are in accomplishing our goals.

The problem is, most of us don’t view the relationships between these considerations the way we view other cyclical processes. Breathing in and breathing out are easy to think of as a single process. But thinking of work and leisure like this seems less instinctive. We have a tendency to elect one as the other’s superior, to favor it any time the two conflict.

It’s easy to tell when one is favoring breathing in or out too much – it’s uncomfortable, and not sustainable for very long. Other signs of imbalance are more subtle – we become irritable or agitated, less patient with minor inconveniences. What’s worse, we often ignore this feedback, or don’t link it to its cause, and continue behaving the same way. Sometimes this can make us pretty miserable people to be around (I can say this, I’ve been that guy – in fact, I was that guy when I was preparing for this trip).

Am I saying we need to avoid work? No. What I am suggesting is that, as a culture, we rearrange our way of looking at things. And here is where the title of this post comes in. Too often in life we conceive of things in a way that marginalizes some aspect of life. If we are headed to the store, the drive there becomes a nuisance. Our daily commute to work becomes a necessary chore. Our job is a necessary evil to sustain our lifestyle.

What this does is set parts of our life against one another. It makes us resent all the journeys for not being the destinations. That strikes me as a difficult way to live, and also as pretty boring, and definitely quite constricting. After all, if I make my life all about destinations, that means I need to know exactly where I’m going all the time.

If, instead, we embrace journeys as something to be valued, it changes the game. There need to be moments in life when we stop, look out the window of the train, and just think for a while.

Which brings me to books, and why I believe they are so important. Books give us that opportunity. They remove us from the incessant bustle of everything else; they demand quiet attention, and at the same time encourage us to relax. They are the window of the train, but better, because every book looks out on something different, brings you a different world, one you weren’t specifically looking for, one that has the potential to surprise and excite you, reinvigorate you, take you down a new path, or make you believe that something incredible is possible. They don’t just pick you up in Rochester and plop you down in New York City, they let you see everything in between.

It turns out a lot goes on between page one and ‘The End’. Don’t miss it.

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Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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