When I feed the animals in the evening, the dog gets more excited about the cat’s dinner than about his own. The cat gets fresh meat. We cut it up in pretty large quantities and then store it in little paper packages in the freezer which I defrost – one by one – a packet per meal. The smell of the raw chicken sends the dog leaping and pirouetting across the floor making little whining noises. The cat is more business like. He makes a bee-line from the kitchen to the laundry (where he’s fed), completely ignoring the vertical antics and spinning axes of the white dervish nearby. The cat doesn’t pass go or take notice anything on the way although he does make a few strongly-worded comments about how long he had to wait for this moment.
I watched them tonight and thought what a good representation their paths were for the way we all journey through life. In the end we all make the same journey – one way or another – from birth to death. But the routes we take are so different and no less interesting or telling for being so.
I have thought a lot about journeys lately. I listened to an amazing two-episode podcast interviewing Australian, Tim Cope who decided to see what it would’ve been like being a horseman of Genghis Khan, riding across the Steppes of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan and into Russia, all the way to Hungary – covering 10,000 kilometres. The trip (with three horses and a dog) took him three and a half years. Technically, Tim’s ultimate destination was the banks of the River Danube. But, just as in life, it wasn’t the final destination which was the focus. The interesting part was the journey itself with all the hardship and emotion it entailed.
Right near the beginning of the podcast, Tim Cope talks about how he came to organize this amazing trip. He and a friend were in Mongolia riding bicycles across the Steppe (you can see he was always the adventurous sort). This particular day, they both had fairly serious mechanical issues with their bikes and were pushing the heavily laden vehicles along the rutted paths. Just then, a group of horsemen and women loomed into view over the horizon, garments flying out in the breeze. The horses approached and the riders pulled up to bid the foreigners hello and then they galloped off again in whatever direction they chose. Tim realized, in that moment, that being limited to the rutted roads because of having a wheeled vehicle was very unsatisfactory. He wanted the freedom of a trackless journey. This comment resonated with me. As a metaphor for life, it rang like a bell.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the ruts and traps of working within societal machinery, that we forget that, to a degree at least, we have the choice to step away and ignore the paths of others.
We like to ask kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?” But this suggests that there is a day when you are “grown up” and when you will have achieved some kind of destination. But I don’t think this is true. Growing up is a journey too – potentially one we never disembark from until the day we die. So perhaps we should be asking kids “what kind of journey do you hope to make?” Or “Can you tell me five different things you would like to do while you are alive?”
I haven’t lead a very directed life. I am not like the cat. I haven’t assigned myself destinations within the journey way ahead of time. I haven’t pursued an amazing career or set myself very stringent goals. And sometimes I feel lost or lazy because of this. I wonder if, when I am 80 years old, I will regret not “grabbing life by the horns” as some might say.
I watch the cat and the dog and both are happy with themselves. They don’t try to imitate the other or feel bad because they are different. Am I wasting my life by just pottering through it in this unplanned sort of way? Or is it possible to enjoy the slow ride and try to enjoy each day for what it is?