20 February 2012

Accidental Adventures

The most beautiful adventures are not the ones we go to seek.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

I suppose I might be a frustrating travel companion, because I like to get lost.  As long as there's no pressing appointment to cloud enjoyment, ending up where you didn't really intend to be, or taking the long way 'round, is often much more interesting.

On a family vacation several years ago, we spent a day in Venice.  My mom took the map from my dad, the Commander, and gave it to me with the task of leading us from the train station to St. Mark's.  I guess she did this because he's not really the stop and smell the roses type, and she didn't want to be marched through Venice.  Also, a lot of the trip had already been spent with my sister and our dad *ahem* debating over the map.  I looked at the map for a few minutes - "yeah we take this turn here - now this way" and then I put it away and started leading us through the city in what I estimated was the general direction of St. Mark's.  We got totally off the main streets, wandered through a lot of small squares and over a lot of little bridges.  I was having a great time.  I'd begged my parents for years to take us to Venice "before it sinks beneath the ocean, pleeeeease!" and here we were, among the quiet and crumbly old buildings, discovering Venice.
I guess I was the only one who thought this was a fun way to travel, because after 30 or 40 minutes of wandering, everyone else realized that I didn't have an actual plan for how to get us to St. Marks, was just "feeling" my way there, and had very little idea of where on the island we actually were.  They took the map away from me with exclamations of annoyance, and in 10 minutes we were in St. Mark's square.
"It's an island," I protested, "we can't really get lost!  Where would we go, the ocean?"

Plan-gone-awry is a familiar theme when you travel.  When I went to Israel (see actual recap here, here, and here) we got lost in Old City Jerusalem on the first night.  That time, it was not my fault and I was not terribly pleased, because we had literally arrived just a few hours earlier and I was exhausted.  Nevertheless, in retrospect I don't regret seeing the back-alleys of the Old City at night.  And nothing says team-bonding like getting lost together.  Later in the trip, in Haifa, we tried to go to the Elijah caves (see 1 Kings 19:9-18).  The taxi driver took us to the Jewish site of the caves, though, and after seeing them we decided we'd also like to see the Christian site, since that was where we'd intended to go.  Several of us thought it would be fun to hike up to the top of the mountain (Mt. Carmel).  It wasn't a long hike, but it was fairly straight up, and over 100 F (38 C).  Pouring with sweat, we stopped halfway and read from 1 Kings, looking out over the Mediterranean.  

The view from Mt. Carmel.  Later we swam in it.  Worth it.

One week ago, my friend took me to nearby Caerphilly, with the intention of having a coffee at a burger shack on the top of the "mountain" there (I put mountain in quotes because while lovely, it's small).  But we missed our bus stop and ended up down the mountain in the town of Caerphilly.  We took a brief look at the castle there, then decided to walk back up the mountain in order to save our bus fare for the return trip.  Like I said, not a big mountain, but it was muddy, and neither of us were prepared for a muddy hike up a mountain, and it took us a good bit longer than anticipated.  It was cool and windy, but we made it to the top, triumphant, and could see all the way back to Cardiff Bay.  When we tried to catch the bus back, we found that the bus stop didn't have a timetable, and as we stood in the fading light on the side of the mountain wondering when the bus would come, it began to rain (something else we hadn't prepared for).

The bus eventually did come, but I guess if we'd gotten off at the right stop in the first place and known when to catch it back, the story of our day would be a lot less interesting.  The same goes for the above stories.  "We went to Venice and it was nice." "We went to Israel and it was nice." "We went to Caerphilly and it was nice."  When plans go awry, stories are born.  Now, the stories of my travel-gone-awry are barely even mildly interesting - they're best in my memory, not in the retelling.  But when I recall the best, funniest, most riveting stories I've heard, from family and from friends, something always goes wrong in order for the climax to come about.  And what about the best books you've read - they'd be pretty boring without a few twists and turns along the way.  "And Frodo rode atop the giant eagle right into Morder, whence he dropped the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom from above, and thus Sauron was defeated."

Of course we don't wish for things to go wrong, or for our paths to be diverted.  In case you haven't noticed, I'm turning this into a metaphor now.  Get it?  Story = life.  Sometimes things don't go the way you plan.  Sometimes things go really wrong, and it's way worse than missing your stop or getting lost in Jerusalem at night.  But sometimes something bigger is at stake than our plans, or our comfort.  Maybe something is to be learned, something is to be done, something is to be changed.  Our adventure is real, and while we may just be in the thick of it now, someday eternal retrospect will help it make sense.  

11 February 2012

I dislike coming up with titles

Once you've not blogged for a certain length of time, it's hard to get back into it.  You open a new post, type in a few words, and realize you have (1) nothing to say or (2) too much to say.  What's relevant and important changes the longer you leave your blog untouched.  Usually this is as far as I get.  I read what few words I've written and think "ugh, I don't want to say that"; erase and shut my laptop, wondering what kind of significance my life has if I can't write about it.  (Writing about my life, whether privately in a journal or online in a blog, has for me been a constant method of self-assessment and mental cohesion.  Being unable to draw a narrative or interpretation from what happens to me/what goes on in my head is disconcerting.)
If this post makes it from the draft posts to the blog, it will be a miracle.

I'll try broad and unrelated points.  The storyteller in me will just have to swallow the fact that they're relatively unconnected.

Everybody's all 'oo Ireland is so pretty'. What about Wales?
Wales is, quite simply, beautiful.  It's beautiful when the sun shines but also when it's been raining for days.  It's still odd for me to not be living smack in nature, but I at least have a view of neighbors' gardens from my window and occasionally get of out town to the wilder parts of the country.

Speaking of the neighbors' gardens (see, I'm trying to connect things and make logical segues), I have new neighbors because I moved.  My new house is smaller and farther away from the university, but you could also say it's cozier and encourages more exercise.  It's nearer to some of the international communities and I love walking down the road and hearing so many different languages and smelling a delicious variety of foods.  I often hear Arabic, actually, which only serves to remind me how little of it I remember.

I went home for Christmas, which was wonderfully rejuvenating.  I don't think I realized how run-down I was until I got home to where I was comfortable and familiar and without obligation.  You may hear exciting and glamorous stories of studying abroad or moving abroad, but my immediate experience was that it's not easy and it's not glamorous.  Particularly when you're inexplicably ill for the first three months.  I'm grateful, though, that so far I've been back a month and am currently still healthy (please pray that continues).

I originally began to write here about what all I'm grateful for, but it quickly turned sappy so I erased it.  The reason I don't like to say sappy things is the sappiness - the triteness, the I've-heard-this-kind-of-thing-before - undercuts the huge significance and serious meaning that I'm trying to express.  I'd rather not say something than have you underestimate its huge importance.  Maybe I'm in the wrong, acting that way.

Just know this.  Nothing I have, did I earn.  Nothing I have, do I deserve.  Everything I have, is more beautiful and perfect than my own desires could have created, even when I gripe about it or take it for granted.

I encourage you to examine your own life and see if this is true.