It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Arrival often brings nothing but a sense of desolation and disappointment.”
I did something yesterday that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Since I had a few days off from work I decided to go ahead and do it. Mind you, it was nothing flashy, expensive or overwhelmingly adventurous, but it was soul satisfying.
There are a couple of old train tracks that slice through the city I live in and fortunately, not too far from my house. So first thing yesterday morning, I packed my backpack with water and a book, drank two cups of coffee, threw on a hat and headed out to see what shall come of it. Why not.
The sun was already out in full force, which is to be expected in summertime Florida. By the time I reached the railroad tracks, sweat was already dripping from my forehead. Probably the beer from the night before but don’t judge me. As I started my trek down the tracks I got a few curious stares from folks driving by in their monthly-payment cars. They either thought I was a bum, troublemaker or half-crazy. They’re probably right on all three. It seems that the folks who gave me an awkward eye just couldn’t fathom a guy walking on a railway. It was weird to them. Their modern brains think this to be out of line with normality I guess. I’m sure one or two of them probably called the cops on me for vagrancy or trespassing. Or something. That’s what people do in today’s world. They tell on people that they don’t understand or relate with. Or they ignore them.
As I got about mile into it, I started feeling real good. You get in a groove when you leave the world behind and are only responsible for putting your next step forward. The track took me through the woods, between pastures and under highway bridges. It was just me and my thoughts. Serenity was all around, sunlight beaming down onto the rusted tracks, dandelions growing between the wooden ties. It was like entering into a segment of humanity outside the rustle-bustle of everyday society where God is closer and your soul is released from form. You get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, mortals were meant for this instead of what is.
A few more miles down brought me to a lightly wooded pasture. As I looked across the land I saw a few tents about 500 feet away from the track under a few clustered oaks. Homeless homes, I thought. Damn, I just couldn’t imagine. Hot Florida days, mosquito heavy nights, no air conditioning and these guys are living it man. I tried to mentally bargain and look on the bright side for these folks. Let’s see—they’re not in debt, they’re not dictated by an alarm clock, not constrained by responsibility and probably don’t give a damn about security or comfort or technology. They didn’t obsess over the news of the day, that’s for sure. And they definitely didn’t need any politicians or wars to make them feel liberated.
Wow, that’s the true definition of freedom, I guess. It’s possible they might be more content than most of the heavily-medicated suburban folks who live lives in such robotic uniformity. Hell, I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.
I walked on. Thinking about the old toothless train-hopping hobos of the past. I’d always had this romantic vision of living life like that. Just train-hopping along on the timeless rails, seeing America from an open door of a fast moving train. Maybe with a pint of something real good in my hand and a stogie in my mouth, of course. My dreams are simple.
My thoughts shifted to America. Not today’s so-called America, but the real America. The vintage America.
Even though I’ve never lived in it and only read about it and heard stories from my Papa, I miss the old America. You know, before TSA, militarized police, cell-phones and television. Before pop culture and reality shows. Before senseless wars and high taxes. Before skinny jeans and metrosexuals. A time when men were men and individuals were free.
Then I put a question to myself: when did it go wrong?
After pondering for a little while, sweating heavily in the southern heat, I came up the answer—the Kennedy assassination. From that watershed moment forward, America has been slowly sliding to where we are today. Just one man’s view of course.
I was surprised as I hiked along at seeing some of the most beautiful and unspoiled landscape. You don’t see this by driving. Towering oaks at the edge of the woods, beautiful wildflowers that eyes probably haven’t touched in a long time. Besides the hobos of course. I thought about Thoreau, the naturalist philosopher that I love to read. I was reminded of what he wrote back in the middle of the 1800’s about his long walks out of the city: “He who sits still in a house all the time might be the greatest vagrant of all; but the sounterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.”
We’re all looking to go to the sea eventually, that unconscious metaphor of the eternal abyss. Thoreau also reminded us that “Life consists with wildness, the most alive is the wildest.” I concur.
Remember, this is coming from a guy who built a cabin with his own hands on the shores of Walden pond and lived there alone, for the sole purpose, in his own words, to live “deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
What tragedy that would be. Man, think about it; you’re just about to die and you realize that you haven’t lived. Mind-blowing.
It’s common. Recently a nurse informed us that one of the biggest regrets of most folks in their final hours is that they had worked too much and lived too little. Damn.
As I headed back home I couldn’t think of what I was suppose do the rest of the day. Responsibility, schedules and all that kind of stuff had totally escaped my mind. I realized that when you’re in the depths of nature the future disappears and the past is forgotten.
All you have is the now.
The present moment.
That’s the focus of your life at that very moment. What nirvana. Focusing on just moments. I think these spiritual moments are what Jesus, Buddha and all the great spiritual teachers tried to teach us. They wanted us to strive for a world beyond this one. It’s what Jesus meant when He said that the kingdom of God is within. You yourself are it. Our own life course is the secret to our own death. We’re all in exile in search of paradise. Few find it. But some come across it on railroads not far from their house.