Stimulating conversation is better than caffeine, and I’d gladly forgo coffee, my daily drink, for a regular thought-turning talk like tonight’s. Like coffee, the effects on consciousness are felt in full force only after the initial pleasure of imbibing has filled the stomach, or the mind. Inspired, or perhaps just enthused, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at yet another long-cherished belief: Stevenson’s (and others’) maxim that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Or as we Americans like to say: it’s the journey, not the destination.
Few moments stand out with such radiant permanence in my memory as those of the day of my wedding, and not least among them is the best-man’s speech at our reception, given by my brother. In it, he recounted our trio’s trek, he Cole & I, along part of the Great Wall, and how perplexed and even frustrated he became with our perpetual meandering. We were I think the last three people to rejoin the group at the end, and in such a heat as to make stones sweat. Those of you who have known me for some time, or even a short time, have probably discovered that I meander without ceasing in both thought and conversation, and my endlessly tangential chatter has furrowed more than one brow in impatient irritation. His epiphany came, as we were photographing and discussing whatever all lay before us, that for us, it is the journey and not the destination that is the primary pleasure, and he wished us the very best on our journey in marriage.
I will in no way risk tarnishing such a rare and beautiful piece with idle thoughts: let me say right off that Stevenson’s reminder that “true success is to labor” is and has and always will ring true in my ears and in my heart. In fact, I only wish to add to the inherent sense and strength of that observation by pointing out a pitfall that may waylay the most stout-hearted but fool-hardy traveller, and that is in thinking that there may be such a thing as a journey with no destination at all. This is in all likelihood a dull nub of a point for me to make, but I know I’ve believed or spouted such gibberish (and worse!), and would gladly expunge the dried up excess of this mindless heresy from my person once and for all.
It is perhaps more accurate to say that the danger is in forgetting that there is such a thing as a destination, that it is intrinsically necessary for a journey to take place, and that to be without one would be like having a compass but no magnetic north. For the one points always toward the other; and without the other, there’s no cause to bring the one about in the first place. It would be like saying that a person may eat without digesting—vomiting being the forceful interruption of digestion—or to live without ever succumbing to Death. In fact, the heretical nonsensical desire of which I speak is a sort of lusting after immortality, or existence without growth. It is truly a heresy, which is a claim that overemphasizes one truth at the expense of other truths, both in that it is manifestly false and in that it leads to other falsehoods. It is seeking a means without an end, which isn’t seeking at all. It is a malaise upon the soul; it could be called sloth. It is worse than idleness; it is closer to idolatry.
For in the sticky clutches of the Lotus eaters, there can be no pursuit of anything at all; there can be no pursuit. The Self is the only object which is viewed, toyed with lazily, by “doting fingers of prurient philosophies pinched and poked,” an obsession festering into an addiction, which “does not recognize anything as absolute and leaves as the ultimate measure only the measure of each one and his desires,” devolving into despair. I have cast off the dark cloak of Meaninglessness: let its sparse and ragged threads dissipate on the rocks. To travel hopefully is to believe that one may arrive; a summer without end is a dreadful drain, and leisure cannot be enjoyed except it alternate with work. Life is indeed a journey, a “search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.” I travel hopefully because we were promised, on good authority, that those who seek, find; to arrive must therefore be to find, Goodness, Beauty, Truth.