11 July 2010


I have always been fascinated by paradox. Not the comparatively trite, maddeningly frustrating kind like Zeno's. But the larger ones of life, e.g. "by losing yourself, you find yourself," that sort of thing. There's so much of that all around, and in my own life too. A lawyer who prefers not to litigate, who thrives on the chaos of doing the deals but also craves quiet time to contemplate. A SoCA beach guy who dresses East Coast. A lover of Bach and Beethoven who also likes technopop and zydeco. I am the perfect embodiment of yin-yang, I guess. And I stopped trying to figure myself out a long time ago.

Consistent with that theme, I love traveling, but also love coming home and knowing there is a home to go to. That's why I haven't minded all the extended business travel of late, I think, yet I am also relieved to have it ending. Because it has been stressful and it's forced me to put some things in life on hold for quite a while. It'll be nice to settle back at home and know I don't have to race off to the airport again in two or three days.

The Welsh call it "taithchwant," the irresistible Celtic yearning for self-imposed wandering and exile, often in a search for spiritual fulfillment. The constant longing for other places, to leave home behind and venture far away, forever searching and exploring, one's heart always unfulfilled somehow, yet satisfied to some extent by the very fact of wandering and searching. Missing home while wandering, and then missing other places once having returned home. Never being fully satisfied in either place.

I have about as virulent a strain of this as can be imagined. I loved where I grew up and yet was delighted to serve a mission on the other side of the world; when I first arrived I thought I was practically on another planet, and I loved it. When I finished school I promptly left the United States again and lived abroad for some time, an ocean and more away from all friends and family. I loved them and yet felt an irresistible drive to leave them, to wander far away by myself in search of . . . well, I'm not sure. Knowledge, experience, growth, discovery. Answering the call of the taithchwant.

And now I find that I've done it again, only this time in a more figurative sense. Coming out set me on a journey that is totally foreign to everyone else in my family, and their reactions to it have led me further afield on my own than I ever imagined. They are all still there, and say they love me. I'm glad. I still love them too. And yet I can't resist the taithchwant, that urge to leave them once more and go exploring again in places far away. Not knowing where the journey will take me or when I'll come back. All I know is that I have to go.

It's another paradox that I thrive on the love and company of family and friends yet also feel this urge to go off exploring by myself, to seek places of solitude. This will be magnified starting tomorrow as I leave for one last trip and say goodbye to my children who will spend the rest of the summer with their mother. I won't see them again for many weeks. And with my travel schedule now winding down, I will for a while have more free time than I've had in a year and a half. And the house will be completely quiet. Filled with peace and melancholy. Inside of one week I will go from having these delightful children with me 24/7 on a schedule of frenetic activity to one of quiet solitude and release from some heavy professional demands. Time to wander if I want.

Perhaps it will be good for me to leave again. It'll be difficult to run across some small article they've left behind somewhere in the house, stare at it in the silence, feeling the poignancy of their absence from this tangible reminder that once not long before, they had been here, and now they're gone. To look at the hand-scrawled notes taped to the fridge door that say I love you Daddy, and know the little hands that wrote it are far away and I won't see them for a while. Perhaps it would be better if I left such reminders behind too, at least until the twins come back.

Taithchwant really sucks sometimes. I'm about to have a foretaste of what it'll be like when they grow up and leave home for good. And so I confront another paradox: the crusty lawyer's armor that hides a heart so soft that I risk losing all composure when I think of them growing up and leaving. Yet I know that's inevitable, that it's best for them, and that they too may feel that irresistible urge to wander. How can I try to hold them back from what I can't resist myself. Perhaps by then I will have found someone with whom I can wander through the rest of life, so that I won't have to do it alone anymore. So the paradox can finally be resolved.

I love T.S. Eliot's lines:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


Beck said...

I call it "hopeless wanderlust". It is a real disease, and I have it bad - always have. The sentiment of always wanting to go and explore and discover and feel the magic of another place, and then wanting to be home and the comforts and security it brings, until you come home and the cycle starts all over again...

Is there a cure?

Quiet Song said...

I "like" this post.