Saturday, 23 May 2015

Another Lesson in Transience

36 hours ago I went through Vancouver International Airport.  An old flame complained about YVR and about the abbreviations for airports in general because the abbreviations follow no rhyme or reason.  I can't disagree with her.

Next to the International Departures gate of YVR there's a large jade (bronze, but jade coloured) statue that depicts a number of Native American characters (Raven, Bear, Frog, etc) coming to Turtle Island.  That statue has been in place for ages.  I remember being 20 and sitting in front of it, having dropped off the woman I was sure I would spend the rest of my life with, and slowly coming to the realization that she was never coming home and it would never work out.  It didn't.  She didn't.  That statue told me the truth.

I checked in, 36 hours ago, and got my tickets to Cape Town.  I kept expecting someone to tell me that I couldn't take the trip (I'd spent 5 hours that morning scrambling to disagree with someone who had said I couldn't take the trip).  I expected them to deny me because of my passport, because of my timing, because of the season, because I'd missed a detail, because I was wearing the wrong glasses, because I looked suspicious.  I expected to be turned away just because this adventure feels too big for me.  I expected to be turned away because somewhere inside of me I had the potent and un-addressed feeling that such a grand thing was beyond the reach of a human with a soul as dented as mine.

One time a long time ago I went to Costa Rica.  I felt, through the whole plane ride, that Costa Rican customs would turn me away.  I wrote about it.  "Why would they let a person so gray as I am into so bright and warm a place?"

It was like that.  Why would they let me do this?

I passed by that jade statue again.  Another time, more modernly, I dropped off a girl I had been in the process of gently falling for.  She was visiting her family in China.  She went home to parents who assured me, and her, that she would lose the approval and support (practical and metaphorical) of her family if she ever really committed to a white man.  I sat underneath that statue, tinged as it always has been for me with loss, sadness and transience.

Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which was a deeply formative book in my younger years.  His son died in San Francisco, stabbed to death in an alleyway.  The Zen monk who instructed at the monastery in San Francisco walked into a meditation class and announced "Chris Pirsig is dead.  This teaches us all a lesson in transience."  He continued the meditation as ever.  Just because the lesson was especially potent or difficult to face did not mean that the lesson should be turned away from.

This statue teaches me a lesson in transience.  YVR is a transient place.  My heart broke in Vancouver.  I'm going into isolation to reflect as deeply as I can on that... to make a little container for the heartbreak, a comfortable bed where it can lay down, storms for it to watch, an island for it to visit.  Maybe I can help it heal, maybe I can just learn to live with it, and maybe my travels will just be a lesson in how it is foolish to go to one of the most remote places in the world and isolate yourself from friends, family and loved ones at a time where your heart is broken.  I don't know yet.

All I know is that life has taught me another lesson in transience.  That jade statue, now as ever, stands as a reminder.

Choking on Breakfast

(There's a wide gap between my last post and this one.  My last post was October.  This post is happening right now, today.  I'll still fill in the gaps)

I had what I would call "idle curiosity."  A friend of mine who I've known for ages spent years researching everything that she and her partner wanted to do with their world tour, and planned each step of their travels to the nth degree.  They found odd museums of pickled brains in South America, they ate Ostritch eggs in Africa, and they knew exactly what they wanted to do as they tooled around the globe.

Me...  I did some research, but somehow my heart just never seemed called to a specific thing.  I was curious to go to a place and see what was there, see what the people were like, breathe the air and find out if it was different.  No travelogues I read were inspiring.  No stories of adventures or caving or underground salt mine tours inspired me enough for me to stand up and say "Yeah!  I want to do that.  I'm going to plan that."  I wanted to wander softly through the world.  That was the original plan.  Me, my backpack and the wind would just go wherever seemed like a good idea from day to day.

The one exception was St Helena.  Of all things I found it on a website that talked about the places in the world you would never, ever want to go, like the "doorway to hell."  Places that sound bleak and lonely and impossible.  It painted the 6-day ocean voyage to the island as lonely and empty, and the exile of Napoleon as one of the lonesome and forlorn tourist attractions.  I remember reading the article and thinking "the hell with that, I want to go there."  It was one of the only places I really felt called to go to, during the time that I was planning all of this.  I would wander the world without a plan... except for going to Cape Town, boarding the RMS St Helena, and going to one of the most remote archipelagos on the planet and finding out what the world looked like, smelled like and felt like when the rest of the world was impossibly remote.

The circumstances in my life changed so quickly that the transition from "I plan to go there" to "I'm going there" happened in less than 10 days.  When a voyage takes 24 days back-to-front if you push hard at each edge (2 days to fly there, 6 days at sea, 8 days on the island, 6 days at sea back to cape Town, 2 days to fly home) people don't tend to call the relevant booking agency and say "I'd like to be on the boat in 10 days."

So... the day I was scheduled to get on an airplane for 36 hours they informed me that I needed travel insurance and that I needed accommodation on the island.  I made some inquiries.  What they didn't tell me is that unless I have a specific type of travel insurance (with a specific threshold of repatriation insurance in case of severe injury) and also travel insurance of the appropriate type *they will deny me passage.* I just about choked on my breakfast.  I had flights and accommodations booked in Cape Town before I ever had any idea this was needed, and I was panicked.  In three hours I left to get on the airplane.  I had to have accommodation finalized before I landed.  None of my emails had been successful (the island life), and phone calls seemed abjectly impossible (also the island life, in the middle of the Atlantic with minimal infrastructure).

I took a hail mary pass.  I tested a few phone calls and prayed that the time difference wasn't too great.  One of the B&Bs on the island let me know 10 minutes before the travel office closed that even though they were full, they'd give me a place to stay.  I didn't need to rearrange my whole life around the cancellation of this trip.  I am, indeed, going to St Helena.