At the Edge of the World

by Jennifer on February 24, 2012

Or Why We Sometimes Have to go through Hell to Get to Heaven

Friday, February 17th, 2012

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

~Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey

That was the quote on the card my friend gave me when we were about seventeen…

The words hovered under an image of the moon on the cover.  It was perfect, and carried in its little package of syllables all the promise we felt inside, and knew would be kept.  It was all we could do to wait to see the world, neither of us having left the country yet.  It was like the most delicious meal, savored in advance.  The world was going to be ours.  I don’t know if the world is hers now or not, we drifted apart like two continents so long ago, but I know it is mine…

Thanks to a road trip through Europe and long journey to the other side of the world, I had visited nine countries by the age of 19.  And yes, I never was the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world…on my toes, bluish in its light in my nightie on the roof in India, even though my family there said I shouldn’t go out at night (the mosquitos.)  I would have risked many more bites just to watch the moon glow on a land that was more foreign than any other I have still ever been to, and yet more my home and familiar to me than any other as well.  The moon, I used to say, was the only thing that was the same.  You can’t imagine the freakish and exquisite feeling it was to be so young and so very free.  Or maybe you can.  My epic yearning for intensity was quenched in a way it hadn’t ever been before.  I could have disappeared into the fabric of the universe.  I loved it.

Even more miraculously perhaps, I still feel that young and free…read on to find out why…

It was hard on me then, just as it is now.  Having been to twenty countries now, I pace myself.  It isn’t just because it is so world-rockingly physically demanding to travel, especially to the wildest and most wonderful edges of the earth, but because it breaks your heart.  Because, if you are very lucky, you fall in love…with everything.  Even the worst parts glow.  You meet people who will live within you always, but whom you may never see again.  I don’t just mean the nice person you sit next to on the airplane.  I mean the people who feed you, and show you their hearts, and fall in love with you too.  And sometimes, you even find family, like I did in India.  Family that if you close your eyes hard enough and reach our your arm to at night you can feel grab your hand on the other side of the world.

They don’t have to be that far away.  The people you leave.  I remember I had only been in New Hampshire for two weeks (and was only staying for six more) when a new friend I had been spending time with leaned over a table to me, drunken, and whispered into my ear, “Don’t leave, Jennifer.”  That is when I knew I had to stop traveling.  At least for a little while.

Don’t get me wrong.  Love is good.  Love is so much more than good that I have no name for how good it is.  And I won’t ever shrink from it, but to really know love you have got to feel it.  You can’t just keep pushing on and loading up and sloughing off.  So I stopped for a few years, and I felt it all.

Believe me, there are few things I love more than an ever-moving train that is always stopping somewhere new, or even a tucked away seat on a greyhound (which used to be, strangely I know, my favorite thing.)  When you move like that life is even more clearly a poem that is being written with your every step.  The secret is to capture that feeling while mostly stationary too.  Actually I want to spill out all the secrets I can to you today about how to have the gifts of traveling wherever you are, and it is all because of Fiji.

I know we wouldn’t have gone there last month if it weren’t for a special invitation.  I knew what it would mean.  To cross the world you have to shed a skin, always.  You have to let go of everything you know, and surrender to the unknown.  When you board a plane to cross a great dark ocean, you are saying yes to total transformation, whether you feel ready or not.

But then something happens, when you have just what you need in a bag and you arrive somewhere and smell a new wind, even if your body is so broken and exhausted from days of travel that you are not sure how you can walk.  Traveling reminds us we are free, that we are making it up as we go, that we are not limited to our routines or what the people around us think of us, that we are not our circumstances, that we may have changed since we last reflected on ourselves that deeply.  Travel gives us perspective…priceless perspective.  It breaks up what we’ve held onto, sometimes painfully.  It takes our cracked places and hits them hard, splitting us open.  It makes us surrender.  And finally, if you open up, it teaches you to take risks, claim who you are, and be fearless.  Then, if you take what it gives you in deeply enough, you integrate it so fully that you are always a traveler, and always at home.

You see, I’ve found buried treasure.  And if I showed you everything I’d known and seen, just in this one life alone, (not to mention all the others) you would gasp at the beauty of what would seem like piles of the most shimmering gems that ever caught light.  That is what you get when you compress coal…diamonds.  And that is why we go through such hell sometimes to get to heaven.  Hell presses the captured light out of us, so we can really know our own gifts.  Besides, for those of you who have really been through it, once you have been through every corner of the dark forest and know your way home from there, once you know every nook and cranny of the underworld, there is nothing to be afraid of anymore.

(Also, then you know the way…always…and naturally you are a guide, without even trying to be one, for the others who are lost and just need a little light to see their path by again.)

In the picture with this writing you’ll see me in paradise.  Not just any paradise (there are so many, ) but the straight-out-of-a-postcard paradise.  In fact, you are seeing me on the most beautiful beach I have ever laid eyes on, in a tropical heaven…an untouched beach my husband and I had all to ourselves.  And yes, everything that didn’t need to be there toppled out of my body and went away.  Yes, surrounded by untouched 2000-year-old rainforest I was healed in new ways.  But just for the record, I practically had to crawl there.  I was so wrecked by food that didn’t go well with me, heat stroke, motion sickness, and a full-on Indiana-Jones-style hike through the jungle that I hardly wanted to move.  That is usually just about how we feel before a breakthrough…before the equivalent of our perfect paradise beach with a hammock just for you arrives.

I am here to say hold on.  Take risks.  Don’t let your circumstances or the people around you decide who you are.  If you can’t get to the other side of the world right now, know that you don’t even need to.  Just dedicate a whole afternoon to go to the nearest natural area and be entirely in your own space for as many hours as you can.  I remember that (when I dwelled in cities) all it took for me was a cafe with a decent latte where I could sit by a big window and write.  If you are going through hell, know it is paving your way to heaven.  Trust against all odds.  Let yourself be taken on magical journeys when they knock at your door.  You may think that they don’t knock, but perhaps you just weren’t listening for them.  Listen for them.  I don’t agree that we only have this one life, but I do think we should live like we do.  Magic is worth taking chances for, and if your bright sunflower blossom is being strangled by someone else’s fear (or collective fear) it is time to snip it.  No more parasite vines.  Let people say what they will, and bloom….bloom…bloom…bloom.  You can’t ever do it wrongly.  Each little petal of sunlit gold knows just what to do.  Every seed knows how to get plump and ripe and fill with life.  If you close your eyes right now and check inside you can find the place of the new blossom that wants to come forward, and you can feel whether you are holding it back or not, and if you are and if you feel really deeply, you can even find out why…

We need sunflowers on the earth right now.  We need brilliant blazes of buttery golden glow waving gently in the breeze who aren’t afraid to stand tall and strong with their light.  Find your new blossom, let it thrive, and I’ll see you at the edge of the world…

Love, Jennifer

 

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