If you think about it, we’re all homeward bound. From the moment we’re born, it’s one long (hopefully) journey home. I don’t say that pessimistically or with any intentional New Age connotations. I just mean the track we’re on is ovoid; we begin and end as stardust.
I began in Pittsburgh, as good a place as any to begin. Good fortune has taken me literally around the world several times over, sometimes to places that are equally hard to imagine or remember. Like the time I lived at the foot of the tallest mountain in Tunisia or the time I climbed a hill in Afghanistan and came to the realization that I was as far away from home as I could be: one step in any direction was one step closer to home. I have no idea where I will end; if I did, I probably wouldn’t want to go there.
Sometimes, late at night when I’m in bed lying next to my wife, I wonder what to make of this great journey. I always fall asleep before reaching anything close to conclusion.
That’s just as well because half the fun of watching a good magician is wondering how the hell did that. The other half is not wanting to know how he did.
The whole thing is mind-boggling, really. Here we all are, spinning through the vastness of space without falling off of a rock with a molten core, racing around the sun in one tiny galaxy in remote corner of a limitless universe. (If any astrophysicists are reading this, feel free to correct me.) And yet if we try to make sense of it all, we inevitably come up short or reduce the whole mysterious thing to platitudes about the “meaning of life.”
A friend of mine from Peace Corps days boiled it all down to one simple, easy-to- live-by mantra: “Nothing matters.” Existential as this is, he might have been right. But I suspect he was very wrong and in the end, it’s everything that matters: like the beating of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazonian rain forest, or things even closer to home—what will we eat for breakfast?; what time will we go to to bed?; how much gas is in the tank, or perhaps most important of all, what’s for supper? I mean, if we are certain about what is coming at the end of the day, we all might make some interesting detours on the way
I’m sure there are valid answers even to the most meaningless questions, but at some obscure philosophical point, the distinctions between the yins and yangs of life become downright trivial. At the school where I used to work, the youngest students adopted their own version of the older students’ Honor Code: “Be honest; Do Your best; Help the other fellow.” Nothing guaranteed to be sure, but not a bad reduction by which to live.
My mother was a Connecticut Yankee who lived a good, long life. True to her New England roots, she was never prone to any kind of emotional exaggeration. A few hours before she slipped away at the age of 94, she roused herself from a twilight coma and told us, “I’ve never seen so much love in this room.” She was surrounded by saints.
I’d like to think that at the end of the day, when I’ve finally made my way home, the place will be full of all those I’ve loved along the way. Maybe then, just before I fall asleep for the last time, I’ll see how the magician did it.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”