Traveling from Cape Town to Cairo is something that I may quite likely only do once in this life. So I’ve been spending no small amount of thought trying to decide how I want to write and record it, what I want to record, and most importantly, what I hope the journey will come to mean in the end. It seems like a futile question to consider at the outset, when the journey has yet to begin and its conclusion cannot possibly be known. Seems like. But isn’t.
It represents something fundamental to me about my personal limits, my place in this vast, imperfect and beautiful world. And about my deepest, most basic attitude to life and the terms on which I will live it.
Traveling with me are three empty moleskine journals, companions in which the fine detail of places, people and journeys can be etched. Even more intangibly, they will record thoughts. Thoughts on these things I see, thoughts on myself, thoughts on the process of thinking. Because stories, you see, are about more than characters, locations and places. They are about taking us slowly, carefully, to vantage points from which we can consider fundamental questions of who we are. The events as they unfold only retaining their significance when they lead us to deeper, more familiar truths about ourselves. Mr Kurtz was not sought in the Congo to entertain us. Neither did Ivan Denisovich describe his day for our historical education. Action has meaning. It has always been the most sacred task of stories to tell of those meanings, written in a higher language of places, events and the fates of characters.
So too is it with this journey. Why this and why now? No flippant retort of “because it is there” or “because a book I read described it” is sufficient. In part, these truths do reflect aspects of my motivations, but beyond them lies the thing I truly want to capture in a fine net of words. I have read many other books and know many other paths that I could have chosen to explore instead. Of all these, I chose this. I have sacrificed much to reach this point, so close to departure, and will likely sacrifice much more before I am done. Again, of all pursuits – all costs to pay – why this?
And the honest, simple truth, is that I don’t know. I don’t know why and I don’t know what the meaning of this story-to-be written will emerge as. I cannot capture yet what it is that drives me forward. With the very limit of my abilities, I can do little more than sketch the vaguest outlines of what meaning, what truth larger than myself might emerge from the journey ahead. That this is a special undertaking seems so obviously written on the words of encouragement or incomprehension I have encountered, and in my heart as I imagine each night the new skies I will move under, what learning each coming morning on the road might confer.
This is not simple travel. Simple displacement. A move between two places. It represents something fundamental to me about my personal limits, my place in this vast, imperfect and beautiful world. And about my deepest, most basic attitude to life and the terms on which I will live it.
Because I want to take you with me, to dance together in the strange places. Because no story is a story unless shared.
Something in me had to change before I could ever believe – far less commit – to departing the world I know to meet this challenge clad in my backpack and a belief that everything will be okay. Something had to change first. So too, on the days ahead, as many more truths emerge, will more of me grow and become bigger to accommodate this place I call my life as the world moves through it and it, in turn grows to welcome its guest.
Only on reflection, I suspect, will what has altered become clear. And only in knowing what has changed can the form of the meaning of this undertaking be known. That, ultimately, is the most sacred, irreplaceable fruit of this journey.
There are many reasons to write about the days ahead. Because I want to take you with me, to dance together in the strange places. Because no story is a story unless shared. And because deep in the tale, once told, lies meaning, purpose. I want to look back with you and finally, in the rereading, be able to see. The hint of that beautiful truth that lies in every story, in every life lived, shared and learned from.